What is Charity in China?
你好！I’m now more than half way there, I don’t get lost quite as much, and Oh, I’m moving to the mountains. As time soars past me faster than the scooters on these lethal roads, I start to wonder why I’m here and why I don’t get the urge to run away from the challenges that face me. Local customs have become my daily habits and I’ve settled into this, now familiar, culture better than I could have hoped. I can’t help but think I’m doing something crazy and something just too big to tackle. Charity in China, is this one step too big for mankind?
The problems here are numerous and the Chinese civil society is still in its infancy. Social Organisations in China began after the reform, set up by the government to offload some of their social concerns. In the past 40 years they’ve gone through some massive changes, even under tight regulations. Little by little the CCP have enabled NGOs to register and progress from grass root level projects. However, the majority of charities’ in China still cannot publically fundraise making them heavily rely on the state for resources.
Despite all these obstacles there are still amazing people doing such inspiring work in this country, undaunted by the huge task of developing this society. Through my work with ChinaNext I’ve become familiar with a small handful of these people and their admirable work. Nothing motivates me more than speaking to young people like the Next Fellows. As a small intern team, of three people, we deliberated about what we could do to help. It appears that charities are doing fantastic work in helping their cause but have issues when it comes to raising awareness for their issue and fundraising, two things charities at home find almost the easiest. We put our heads together and began “Project Awesome” without fully understanding what we intended to do. The research was slow and the internet even slower. We compiled a list of “Innovative Ideas for NGOs” which contains examples of cases that we personally found inspiring. This list, however, is incomplete as there is endless amounts of innovative work being done that we just did not find, so, our list is there for future interns to add to and make their own. Some of my favourite examples are:
1. ManCans: This Company, started by a 13-year old from Ohio, sells unique candles with scents like “Fresh cut grass” and “NY Style Pizza.” They are made inside an actual soup can – after the soup inside is donated to a local soup kitchen! You’re buying both a uniquely scented candle and the warm fuzzy feeling of feeding those in need.
2. Donors Choose: Donors Choose is an online platform that highlights the lack of resources in public schools. To combat this issue Donors Choose allows any teacher to set up individual projects that can be directly funded by donations. Donors Choose provided kids with experiences they would otherwise be unable to fund. The successfully funded projects take pictures and send them to the donors with thank you cards from the kids. www.donorschoose.org
3. Thousands learn it the hard way: This Princes Trust Ad campaign was launched to urge employers and others to look with fresh eyes at young people from troubled backgrounds and give them a chance to get their lives on track. It hijacked the popular business network Linked-in to highlight the potential of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. (I highly suggest you watch this video! https://vimeo.com/118127317)
We couldn’t conduct all of our research from the armchair and I was eager to get out and explore some of Shanghai’s charities first hand. Our first visit was to Be Better education, a community based educational organisation. We joined in on their preschool class, a 30 minute session for kids aged 2-3. Li Laoshi impressively engaged the children through dance and interactive stories. Without Be Better these kids would be unable to obtain an early education that can be vital in China’s competitive system. We reviewed our experience and found that the class lacked social interaction between the kids, something I believe is very important at that age. So, we returned to Be Better and had the opportunity to lead the class which was so much fun, I think I even enjoyed the dancing more than the kids did.
We also visited Warm Charity, which provides art education for children with various disabilities. It was founded and is run by a Next Fellow, Tong ZiYing, so we also had the opportunity to interview her. My experience at Warm Charity was exactly as the name suggests, warm and inviting. I enjoyed getting involved in the art with the kids and even got to do some Chinese Calligraphy. Ms. Tong is a heart-warming woman. Her love for art, which came from an early age as her parents were artists, coupled with her unique approach to helping disabled children is really what has led to her success. The art classes aren’t just a means of entertainment, the children learn real skills and get to express themselves more than they ever have before. Warm Charity holds art exhibitions and even brings the children on trips to art galleries and museums. Both the artwork of the kids, and Ms. Tongs determination seriously impressed me.
Our next stop requires a bit more of an adventure. On Wednesday Eugenia, David and I will travel to Guangxi Provence to meet another Next Fellow, Chen Ci. In rural village in the mountains we will work at his summer camp part of, Alma Anta, his charity which focuses on teenagers in distant rural areas. I’m nervous and excited, but part of me is aware that I’m totally oblivious to what actually lies ahead. This scares me a little but my adventurous and curious side wins the struggle with the scary thoughts. It’s going to take us two days to travel to the camp and I hope to gain an even greater understanding of what it means to do charity in China.
I’m surrounded by volunteers. From colleagues, to roommates, friends and acquaintances, they’re everywhere. For goodness sake, I’m one myself, but why? I came here following my passions, China and Charity, my ideal combination. But why does this work interest me and all the people around me. I looked to them to find answers for myself, asking them why they came here. As expected, answers varied from each individual. Some do it for University, to make a difference, to see the world and some just want to party. I can’t help but wonder if there’s something specific within us all that makes us work for free. My inner homo economicus tells me the benefits must outweigh the costs. I know for sure that I want to be here, but I’m still trying to figure out why that is.
The Xubo flat is the busy busy hub where I meet the majority of these volunteers, some staying for a long period and others simply just passing through on their way to other projects. I’m surprised at how attached I become to these new people in my life, especially being a girl who doesn’t get homesick, as I’m comforted by knowing I’ll eventually return home. I find myself caring about the people around me here, almost filling the vacancies that are left when I leave home. My Xubo family really make this experience what it is, they’re good craic, like. We explore Shanghai together, experiencing the food, culture and all willingly get lost in this amazing city. It’s a bond that forms without you ever noticing, until you unfortunately realise it’s only temporary. Unbeknownst to them just yet, but I will certainly enjoy my trip around Europe visiting each of them on my tour through their home countries. (Hi guys, see you soon!)
I suppose I better wrap up this waffle, until next time, Slán!