Volunteer-powered elderly care project grows in Beijing
by Fiametta Mancini
Beijing, China: The Shijingshan District Gucheng Street Office and the Leling Elderly Care Organization kicked off the UNV- and UNDP-supported 'Spring Shoots Programme', which will develop their project of providing services to elderly residents.
Leling is a grassroots community organization driven by volunteers, with the mission to improve the quality of life for older people living in their community. They aim to create an elderly care model which can work in the Chinese local context.
Although caring for the elderly is still a strong value in Chinese culture, with Chinese society growing older and fewer young people available to take care of their parents, senior citizens face practical challenges in daily life and are at risk of isolation. Support to the elderly has become one of the priority areas for the Beijing Government in the last two years, and volunteers are more and more often mobilized to offer assistance.
The launch event introduced the Leling project, promoting mutual help teams to support the elderly in their communities. Training was delivered to 50 local resident committee members focusing on the valuable role that volunteers can play in communities, in particular in providing services to older people. These can include free blood pressure checks, support for elderly people with physical impairments, and recreational activities with dance, music and handicrafts.
UNV volunteer Partnerships Coordinator Fiammetta Mancini commented: “The Leling staff were very good at giving an overview on community-based volunteerism with participatory methods, stimulating discussion and presenting some case studies from other countries. The participants were interested in how to effectively integrate volunteers into elderly care activities.”
The ‘Strengthening Volunteerism for Development through the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ volunteer coach, Gillian Dale, with the help of Wang Xiaolin, a UNV volunteer, presented a video of an activity she carried out in England on International Dance Day 2009. Professional dance practitioners led groups of people in different locations in simultaneously dancing to the same song. The idea was to promote social inclusion in communities through dance, with a special attention to senior citizens’ participation.
“It is inspiring to see how this kind of activity can bring physical and spiritual benefit to old people," said Ms. Liu, a participant in the training. "It would be nice if we could prepare a similar event with the help of community volunteers, connecting with other communities in Beijing and in the world through music on next year’s International Dance Day”
Officials from the Shijingshan District Social Workers Committee, of the District Bureau of Civil Affairs, and District Office for the Elderly attended the launch ceremony. Under the ‘Strengthening Volunteerism for Development through the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ project, the 'Spring Shoots Programme' is a volunteer project management capacity-building programme to enhance volunteer projects in Beijing.
It includes training for volunteer project managers and volunteer leaders, plus a component of tailor-made coaching and small grant support for three selected Volunteerism for Development model projects, among which is Leling. Xiaolin and Gillian provide coaching and monitor the best use of a small grant to strengthen Leling and allow it to grow in more communities.
A pilot was implemented by Leling in the Tianxiang community in 2008 to work with local volunteer leaders and build elderly care volunteer groups according to the specific situations of neighbourhood residents. In this way, engagement in the life of the community has increased and the needs of senior citizens are now better addressed.
A representative of the Tianxiang community shared her experience at the training, encouraging other communities to replicate the activities under Leling’s guidance. Leling, now counting on 'Spring Shoots Programme' support, plans to set up elderly care volunteer teams in four more communities in the area.
“Around 20 percent of the population is above 60 years old in the Gucheng area and volunteers can be a driving force in improving the quality of life of this vulnerable group,” said Mr. Wang, an official from the Gucheng local Government.
‘Strengthening Volunteerism for Development through the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ was launched in July 2007 as a partnership between UNV, UNDP, the Beijing Youth League, Beijing Volunteer Federation and the China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchanges. The objective is to harness the enthusiasm towards volunteering boosted by the Beijing Olympics to promote volunteerism as an effective means towards development. One of the main components of the project is aimed at building the capacity of three Volunteerism for Development pilot projects, including the Leling Elderly Care Project.