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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: September 25, 2010 NO. 39 SEPTEMBER 30, 2010
Making the Games Great
Volunteers in all corners of Guangzhou gear up for the upcoming Asian Games

CHINESE HANDCRAFT: Gillian Dale, a representative of the UN Volunteer program, learns how to sew a Chinese sachet at an activity organized by the team with Shangxiaqiu volunteer station (COURTESY OF GAGOC)

Following in the footsteps of volunteers during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the ongoing 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, residents from near and far are turning out in droves to offer their assistance for the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province. More than 590,000 volunteers—out of nearly 1 million who applied—will help residents and guests during the games this November.

Of the total, 90,000 volunteers will work in the city's sports venues and the other 500,000 will help residents and event spectators at 500 stations before and during the event, said An Jianguo, deputy head of the Volunteer Department of the Guangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee (GAGOC).

College students from Guangzhou's universities make up about 70 percent of the volunteers, An said.

An said the committee was happy to see Guangzhou residents, particularly college students, step up to help, but passion alone will not be enough to ensure a truly comfortable atmosphere for event goers. "It also deals with the awareness of cultural differences in building skills for effective cross-cultural communication," he said.

To prepare volunteers, An and his team organized training programs covering language, service skills and knowledge about Guangzhou and all 45 participating countries and regions.

They even invited experts to compile a brochure on assisting disabled people and skill-building tips for volunteers serving the Guangzhou 2010 Asian Para Games in December.

"We will do our best to deliver reliable and professional volunteer services," he said.

Contagious spirit

Zhou Chao, a marketing student from Guangdong Polytechnic Normal University, was one of the first volunteers for the event. He is now deputy head of Shangxiajiu volunteer station, which opened at a bustling pedestrian-only commercial street on January 1 this year.

All over the city, there is a total of 128 similar fixed stations near major intersections, squares and scenic spots. Volunteers with these stations answer guests' questions concerning transportation, shopping, traveling and accommodations.

The Shangxiajiu station Zhou heads is famous for its creativity in offering volunteer services. After opening the station, the team spent two weeks hand-drawing a special map of the surrounding areas covering information about tourist attractions, cultural relics, shopping and transportation tips.

They also designed special activities to promote cultures and traditions of Asian countries for each international or traditional festival, inviting residents and travelers to participate.

The team spends about half an hour everyday learning to start dialogues in English. It also practices emergency drills and other necessary skills, he said.

"The volunteer spirit, as I understand it, lies more in creating an environment for people to be interested in making it a better place through selfless deeds, than with merely offering help," said.

To brighten people's days and encourage praiseworthy behavior in public spaces, the GAGOC volunteer department launched the "Thumbs Up" campaign in June 2009. True to its name, volunteers in the program stand at designated areas and greet passersby with their thumbs up.

The campaign has attracted nearly 6,000 volunteers for weekend duties. Lii Yanmin's family is one of them.

Inspired by her relatives volunteering at NGOs in Hong Kong, Lii joined the Guangzhou Society of Volunteers and began volunteering in 2002 with her husband, Li Feng.

The couple later brought their parents and children to varied volunteer activities such as assisting pedestrians at crosswalks, donating blood and acting in promotional films for volunteer efforts.

"Persistence is the most difficult part of volunteering, especially for a family with elderly and children," Lii said.

But the kids, aged seven and five, respectively, enjoy it and think volunteering is much more fun that going to theme parks, Lii said.

"We have benefited from the volunteering work, too," Li said. "It helps us build closer family ties and keeps our retired parents busy while helping the kids understand the importance of caring for others and being a more responsible person."

The family has also started introducing more people to volunteer efforts. "Just like us before 2002, a lot of people don't know where to apply and how to join these organizations," Li said. "We, together, need to make the change."

Foreign faces

On May 8, Shangxiajiu station had a special guest: Sunny Yune, a Korean girl and the station's first foreign volunteer.

Yune followed her brother to Guangzhou to learn Chinese, and was introduced to the city's volunteer efforts through a friend. No one expected Yune to fulfill the minimum hours required for a volunteer's identity—but she did.

"As an Asian, I want to work for the Asian Games, too, and make my own humble contribution," Yune said in simple Chinese sentences.

Yune comes to the station every weekend and has volunteered for more than 100 hours. Working with Chinese volunteers enables her to improve her Chinese, and in return, she teaches others in Korean and about basic Korean etiquette.

She is also responsible for translating Chinese materials into Korean for the blog the team keeps, explaining to the passersby basic information about the event and uploading photos to the station's blog. "It's interesting. We have lots of fun and I can speak better Chinese now," she said.

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