Whether factoring in its population, land area, or economic growth, one thing is certain - China is huge, and so is its need for volunteers. As the world's fastest developing economy, China's society has seen an increasingly large disparity between its rich and poor populations. Despite the economic growth, China largely remains a poor country, creating an interesting contrast of luxury and welfare. Nowhere is this more apparent than the country's capital of Beijing.
Officially, over 20 million people call this city home (not including the 7 million plus unregistered residents living illegally.) Across China, more than 130 million people struggle to make ends meet while living under the international poverty line. A greater understanding of Chinese culture will undoubtedly be a valuable take away from an experience volunteering abroad in Beijing.
As one of the country's strongest and most developed cities, Beijing provides a natural draw to citizens wanting a slice of the economic pie (but is there enough for everyone?) From helping individuals from poor economic backgrounds to unwanted children, volunteers will find many opportunities for service in this massive city. Go Overseas recommends getting involved in some of the following projects.
Within the last 50 years, the Chinese government implemented the One Child Policy in an effort to curb outstanding population growth. An unfortunate side effect of these restrictive family planning policies was an increase in the number of unwanted children. It is not uncommon to find a large number of little girls in Chinese orphanages, as ancient traditions glorifying the birth of sons remains ever-present in contemporary Chinese society.
Additionally, children who suffer from cleft lips or other small, visible abnormalities are also often neglected from a young age. Volunteers can help by pitching in at one of the many orphanages in and around the suburbs of Beijing. Orphanages are often understaffed, providing children with less attention than they deserve - as a volunteer, you will be able to lend a helping hand and show a child some love.
Charity for the Disabled
In addition to physical ailments, Chinese society collectively frowns upon individuals who suffer from mental disabilities. Birthing a child with brain defects shows a sign of weakness, and thus these children are often abandoned, who later grow into adults who feel unwanted, unloved, and out of place in society. Volunteers can help by facilitating activities that teach these individuals important life skills and helping them to function more independently. Daily activities and weekly field trips help connects those who are differently abled to feel more comfortable and familiar in the Beijing community.
Teaching Children of Migrant Workers
Beijing offers many opportunities for individuals in the more rural areas who are in need of work. Unfortunately, many of these people come to Beijing and work illegally, as they cannot register for a proper housing permit. Because of this, the families of these workers do not have access to basic health care or education. The Chinese government denies these social services to citizens who move to Beijing without permission, yet families are motivated to move to Beijing despite these laws to take advantage of financial horizons.
The children of these workers are put in a unique situation; not only do they end up being behind many of their peers attending formal classes, they especially fall behind in terms of their English language skills. On the whole, Chinese society deems fluency in English extremely important, with lessons being mandatory from age 8 onwards. Volunteer English teachers will provide opportunities to students from poor backgrounds, giving them more competitive skills.
As a volunteer, you will witness first hand how Confucian ideals and collectivism infiltrates Chinese thought and actions. Be leery of situations where you would make any of your colleagues embarrassed - for instance, do not publicly disagree. Instead, remain quiet and discuss it later. It is an unfortunate reality that subjugated feelings are more positively received. If you want to make a difference, you may have to play by the rules.
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Beijing
Although there are no vaccinations required prior to your volunteer trip to Beijing, it is highly recommended that you do a general check up with your doctor or physician before leaving. Chinese medication emphasizes slow healing with natural practices; while it may be interesting to learn about culturally, it is advised to pack any medication you normally use from home.
Beijing is in general a very safe city to live in; however, it is recommended to beware of pick pocketing in crowded places (i.e.just about everywhere.) Chinese people, especially children, warmly welcome foreigners and will most likely try to talk to you even while you are walking down the street!
Contributed by Megan Lee