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Volunteers: from villages to the Olympics
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18:35, April 15, 2008

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The Beijing Olympic Games is apparently not only an opportunity for athletes. It is and will be an impetus for the development of volunteerism in China.

College students take the lead in offering voluntary services during the Olympics. At least 70 percent of some 100, 000 Olympic volunteers will come from university campuses. In one case, an entire school has been engaged in the event in at least one way. Nearly all the students and teachers – some 7,000 people – from the Beijing Foreign Studies University, which teaches 43 foreign languages and a Chinese dialect (Cantonese), will offer voluntary language services for the Olympics. Hao Ping, the head of BFSU, was the first one to apply to be an Olympic volunteer.

"Our students have been working at the Good Luck Beijing international sporting events prior to the Olympics," said Xue Yan, Secretary General of the BFSU Communist Youth League Committee. "You can see our volunteers in every venue of the Beijing Olympics." And the majority of the volunteers receiving and accompanying VIPs during the Beijing Olympics come from BFSU.

BFSU began to offer voluntary language services for important international events hosted by Beijing since the 1990s, when the concept of volunteerism was introduced into China. Its students worked as translators and interpreters for functions such as the World Conference on Women in 1995, the 21st Universiade in 2001, and the China-Africa Cooperation Forum.

"We also help those in need," said Xue. A project called Xinyu (Beautiful Language) was launched by BFSU last year; and is designed to improve the language education level in the less-developed, western part of the country.

Xue and his colleagues were concerned about student interest in a project that would involve going to areas with poor living conditions. It is not an easy task for students as most of them have not been exposed to such difficult conditions. But surprisingly, there was a larger turn out of applicants than the project needed.

"They told me they wanted to see and experience how poor people lived; and how they could help those in need," Xue recalled. During the two-week program, the students, who are only children in their families, helped local teachers and students in those poor areas with language teaching or studies.

"They enjoyed that. No one complained because they felt they had learned a lot from that experience. They are very proud that they could do something for those in need," said Xue. The purpose of the project, he explained, is to give students a full, real understanding of the country. "As a person who will deal with people around the world on the diplomatic front, how can you fulfill your responsibility if you do not have enough understanding of your own country?"

"I hope our students --- most of whom have grown up in very good conditions --- will be able to work and perform well in different conditions; no matter whether it is at a magnificent event in the Great Hall of People or a village in a poor area."

Qin Su, a volunteer who joined the program last year, said she was deeply impressed by the small northwestern county's conditions which she stayed in. "You can learn about stories from books and TV about how difficult people's lives are in those areas. But a hands-on experience is much, much more impressive," she said.

No shower facilities. Always eating the same wheaten food. Twelve hours of work a day. All those were challenges for a girl from a well-off urban family. She told her mother about the situation there. And her mother encouraged her to carry on. She made it.

"It is the first time that I had to be responsible for others. In my eyes, those students are my brothers and sisters. I should help them. I can help them," she said.

Qin still remembered the first time she worked as a volunteer. That was when she was a high school student. She took a blind child boy with autism on a tour around Beijing. The boy did not say anything and hardly responded to what he saw and heard. At the end of the day, the boy suddenly said to her: "Thank you, sister." She was stunned, and then moved nearly to tears. "I never expected he would say that to me. I will never forget the moment he did."

Now she is an Olympic volunteer. She worked for the Good Luck Beijing, Ninth World Wushu Championships in November 2007. For her, the requirements are the same. No matter what your role is as a volunteer, a good volunteer must be "responsible, enthusiastic, persistent, and committed to the honor." She felt honored to have the chance to do something for the Olympics. "It is probably the only chance in our lives to be part of it and contribute something," she said.

And she has gained much from both opportunities. "Both as a volunteer to help those children in that poor area, or as a volunteer for the Olympics, I have improved my efficiency and ability to cooperate and communicate. My classmates all share the same view."

The most important thing is that she always feels happy. "Those experiences have really made me happy. If not, I would have given up after I worked as a volunteer for the first time."

Xue has the same opinion. BFSU will set up an archive for each volunteer. But what he values most in a volunteer is "what he/she gains spiritually from the experience." And he judges that from one fact: "whether he/she feels happy during and after that experience."

By People's Daily Online

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