Readme Magazine – “Why I Volunteer”

Readme magazine is a monthly lifestyle and business magazine with a strong readership among the expatriate community in Guangzhou. This article is a personal reflection on charity, volunteering and social justice in China.


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Expat: Why I Volunteer

Olivia Rosenman is an avid supporter of volunteerism.  A volunteer herself, she works for the Australian government and is based in Guangzhou. Her dream is to be a journalist because she believes that the media can play an extremely important role in revealing injustice in society and creating a catalyst for change.

By Olivia Rosenman

I have been fortunate. I grew up in a wealthy country, into a family who had enough money to feed me, clothe me, and give me a good education. I didn’t do anything special, it was pure and simple luck.

Volunteering and contributing to charity work are both important values I hold. Not everyone has been so lucky, and I feel a responsibility to try to make a difference to the lives of those less fortunate than myself. The difference I can make may be small but it’s important to me to dedicate a part of my life to giving something back to society.  At times I contribute more than other times, but what matters most is the spirit of giving. That’s what I believe in.

Last year I spent ten months in Nanning, Guangxi province, volunteering as the Communications Manager for a small charity organisation called Angel House. Angel House provides services for children with cerebral palsy.  I get found the opportunity through the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development program (AYAD). AYAD is a project under the Australian Government’s Developmental Aid agency.

When I first arrived at Angel House I was shocked at how little they had to work with.  Guangxi is one of the poorest provinces in China. Local knowledge and understanding of disability, especially cerebral palsy, is quite poor. I was inspired by the passion, dedication and perseverance of my colleagues. My observation was that people with disabilities are routinely and systemically excluded from society, especially in education and employment. Angel House struggles to find enough funding to carry out their work and the government provides no assistance, on the contrary, it often makes things more difficult. I loved going to work every day because it was so rewarding to contribute to the organisation’s trailblazing work. Being a part of an organisation that provides vital services to children with cerebral palsy was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

I’ve been in Guangzhou for about four months now. As soon as I arrived I started looking for local opportunities to volunteer. It wasn’t easy. My impression is that Guangzhou that breathes money. Every second person I meet is some sort of merchant and at times it feels like the common interest of locals is making money.

After a bit of hunting, I found out about BEAN an international organisation that was founded in Seattle, USA, with the motto “uniting people in friendship around charity”. It’s not just an organisation for volunteers, it is a social network where people can meet others with similar interests. So you can volunteer, make friends and have fun all that the same time. There’s also no requirements or conditions. We realise people are busy it can be hard to commit, so BEAN members are free to participate as much or as little as they want. We have a regular monthly meetup, which is more of a social event, and all our volunteer opportunities are posted on our website.

The Guangzhou chapter is quite new and I have recently become the person in charge. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, and the challenge, of trying to increase the altruistic spirit in Guangzhou, especially amongst the expat population.

Volunteering in China is complicated. Many international charities and foreign government aid programs are withdrawing. As the country becomes wealthier, the Chinese government is gradually taking over the role of providing aid. Although many people in China have become richer, there are still countless people left behind, especially minorities such as people with disabilities, ethnic groups and rural communities.

China has a long way to go before all of its huge population enjoy a good quality of life. Until then, there is still a strong need for volunteers in China.