From outsiders to insiders: Volunteers' innovative eco-hub sits at the heart of a community

06 June 2018
State of the World's Volunteerism Report
How did a small farming village on the edge of a megacity transform into an eco-friendly hub that attracts and inspires people from all around? Women from Xinzhuang village in China have managed to achieve such a transformation in just a short space of time. Since 2017, local volunteers have been holding monthly eco-markets where they sell organic food, recycle garbage and conduct environmental seminars. The volunteers also initiate regular campaigns to stop the use of non-recyclable plastic packs and to encourage the community to clean up the area together. Jiawenzhang Guo, UN Volunteer and researcher for the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, spent a day at once of the eco-markets organized by volunteers and had the chance to talk to the founders of the campaign.

 

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Xinzhuang is in Changping District of Beijing. Located at the foot of the Yanshan Mountains, this area has about 2,000 residents, 60% of whom are non-locals. The “newcomers” settle here to take their children to a local school. The rest of the population are mostly farmers, as the village is one of the main suppliers of strawberries to Beijing.  Xinzhuang village is a typical rural community with basic public services for waste and sanitation. But things changed after an incident in the village.

 

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Yang Jing, who relocated to Xinzhuang three years ago, raised a sheep that died after it ate a plastic bag. This incident deepened Jing’s concern for environmental issues in the community so she gathered her friends to organize a meeting with the head of the village. 

 

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The head of the village supported the proposals put forward by Jing and her group. These included a series of plans such as constructing a garbage station, organizing daily garbage collection from households, preventing the use of one-off plastic package in the community and organizing seminars to teach the villagers how to sort their garbage. The head of the village supported these proposals.

 

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Soon afterwards, Jing, together with six other volunteers, organized the first eco-market. Women played a leading role in organizing the event, as all the initial founders are female. Initially, some of these female volunteers received resistance from their relatives, because the new responsibilities took their time away from their families. But after seeing the improvement of the living environment, the families eventually appreciated their work for the community.

 

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During the eco market in March, Gaige, a core member of the volunteer group, moved to the greenhouse to take care of the organic strawberries which are grown without chemicals and plastic mulch. Instead of chemicals, the volunteers use fermented food waste as a fertilizer for the strawberries. The volunteer group finances their work from the sales of the strawberries.

 

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The volunteers started with little experience and technical skills in relation to eco-business. But as they proceeded, their network grew. The women contacted external experts who provided them with technical guidance. Today, more and more volunteers are coming to Xinzhuang from all over the country both to assist and to learn from this community’s experience.

 

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Volunteerism in Xinzhuang not only helped to transform the village and the living conditions in the community but also contributed to social cohesion - increasing the willingness of community members to cooperate with each other in order to survive and prosper. Although all the members of the volunteer group are “new villagers”, through their activities and achievements they managed to build strong relationships with the longer-term residents. After a year of voluntary work hand-in-hand, the perception of the volunteer group gradually shifted from being considered “outsiders” to “insiders”. This helped to expand the scope of their activities and convinced more villagers to join and act.

 

Asia and the Pacific
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