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‘Time bank’ pilot program in Shanghai enables people to ‘deposit’ time

(People's Daily Online)    14:56, December 29, 2020

Thanks to a special program piloted in Yangpu district, east China’s Shanghai, people in the city can register themselves as volunteers to spend time taking care of senior citizens or keep them company, which they will be rewarded for with the ability to receive similar services when they are in need in the future, reported WeChat account (ID:shanghai-yangpu) of Media Convergence Center of Yangpu district.

Yang Beifen (right) visits Gu Guifang at Gu’s home.

The program named “time bank” was introduced to Yangpu district by Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau last August. It was designed to reduce the loneliness of elderly citizens, especially for seniors who are over the age of 60 who live alone.

The time volunteers spend helping senior citizens in need will be recorded in the program’s system just like money put into a bank. For each hour of service, volunteers can receive one “time coin.” When these volunteers get older and need help themselves, they can “withdraw” the time to enjoy services for the same duration.

Yang Beifen and Wu Yuelian enjoy talking with each other.

In Changhai Road subdistrict of Yangpu district, many community care workers who have paired up with senior residents under the long-standing community care worker system were directly transferred to the new program, becoming the first batch of volunteers in the “time bank” program. Yang Beifen, a 68-year-old female citizen in the subdistrict, is one of them.

“Aunt Gu, how do you feel today? Is your blood pressure normal?” Such questions about the health condition of an 84-year-old citizen named Gu Guifang are often the beginning of conversations between Yang and Gu.

Knowing each other for five years, they always have fun talking to each other, with their topics of conversation ranging from Gu’s health to domestic trivia.

Volunteers stage an art performance for senior citizens.

“I immediately think of her when I need someone,” Gu said. To Gu, who lives alone most of the time, Yang is not just a volunteer.

According to Gu, in 2017, she felt dizzy one morning, which she didn’t take seriously at first. When she told Yang about it, Yang said it might be a precursor to a cerebral infarction. That afternoon, Gu experienced some discomfort again, so Yang immediately took her to the emergency room after receiving her call. Gu’s doctor told her that if she had been sent to the hospital half an hour later, she might have had sequela.

Wu Yuelian, a 77-year-old woman in Yang’s community, who has been living with her pet dog after her husband passed away, is also a recipient of her volunteer services.

Since Wu is less than 10 years older than Yang, they have a lot to talk about with each other and share many hobbies. Crocheting is one of their common interests.

Volunteers cut hair for the elderly people.

“I learned how to crochet first. When she saw me crochet stuff, she thought it was interesting and started to learn it too. Now we are always talking about crochet patterns,” Wu said.

“We meet each other every day. We come to each other’s house to talk for a while even when we go out to walk our dogs,” Wu said, adding that Yang is like her younger sister.

After Yang introduced Wu to her friends, Wu has become friends with many of Yang’s friends, and started to take part in various activities. She never felt lonely again.

The heartwarming stories between Yang and the senior citizens she has been offering volunteer services to are the epitome of the “time bank” program, as there are more people doing similar things in Shanghai.

A volunteer talks with an old man.

According to relevant statistics, the number of registered volunteers for the “time bank” program has reached 390 in Changhai Road subdistrict alone. These volunteers have accumulated 136 “time coins.”

As of July 28, 2020, Yangpu district had 1,374 registered volunteers for the “time bank” program, serving seniors a total of 554 times.

Volunteers can offer many types of services to senior citizens in need. Besides keeping the elderly company like what Yang has been doing, volunteers can also help the aged with trips, cultural and sports activities, knowledge about health, legal aid, training and lectures and guidance on the prevention of financial risks. They can even offer customized services according to the needs of senior people.

The online platform of the “time bank” program has been promoted in Shanghai step-by-step. Through the “time bank” mini-program on WeChat, elderly citizens can post information about their needs and receive the latest news on and knowledge about senior care, while volunteers can know the detailed description of the services he or she needs to provide in the current “order” and “other information,” including feedback on services and the number of “time coins.”

The program is still recruiting new members. People who want to become volunteers can sign up for the program at the neighborhood committees of their residential communities. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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