Shenzhen's charitable undertakings take flight
By Tao Xing  ·  2023-05-15  ·   Source: NO.20 MAY 18, 2023
Li Yishan (front left), a volunteer with the Shenzhen Mangrove Wetlands Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization, and a group of visitors pose for a photo at the Guangdong Neilingding Futian National Nature Reserve in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, on May 5 (WANG WEI)

In early May, as part of a charity experience project launched by China's tech giant Tencent and Non-Profit Incubator, a Chinese organization committed to promoting social innovation and supporting charity organizations in the country, 50 participants, selected from a wide range of fields including media and public welfare, traveled to 10 cities and regions all over China to visit local charities. Shenzhen in Guangdong Province was one of the destinations.

In recent years, Shenzhen's public welfare and charitable undertakings have developed rapidly. According to a 2021 report by local newspaper Shenzhen Daily, the city had ranked at the forefront in the China City Philanthropy Index for five consecutive sessions and is known as China's "most caring and generous city."

But the achievement could not have been made without the many urbanites who engage in charitable undertakings.

Volunteering, a lifestyle 

When Bi'anhua confidently introduces her knowledge of the mangroves and their inhabitants in the Guangdong Neilingding Futian National Nature Reserve in Shenzhen, she sounds like a pro. But in daily life, she is actually a video game streamer—meaning she turns her online gaming into an interactive performance for other netizens to enjoy. And Bi'anhua is not her real name.

Bi'anhua means lycoris radiata or equinox flower in Chinese. Every staff and volunteer at the Shenzhen Mangrove Wetlands Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization, has a "stage name" taken from nature. The organization is dedicated to protecting wetlands and their biodiversity, as well as conserving nature through public engagement.

Bi'anhua's real name is Li Yishan. "The more I learn about ecological protection, the more I cherish my duty," Li told Beijing Review, adding that at the very beginning, she only applied to volunteer because it sounded interesting.

Coastal mangrove forests are resilient, tolerating salt, powerful waves and even rising sea levels. The famously twisty trees also offer many different bird species flying around the forest protection and abundant food sources. Every year, the Mangrove Foundation goes to great lengths to help the public understand the importance, and improve their awareness, of ecological protection. And volunteers play an important role in spreading the word.

The Mangrove Foundation's funds mainly serve research and ecological protection purposes. "We can only cover our volunteers' basic needs. The volunteers devote a lot of their time and we really appreciate their efforts," Shi Wenjun, a Mangrove Foundation staff, told Beijing Review.

"I think more people should learn about the importance of mangroves and participate in the protection of mangrove ecosystems," Li added. Following the necessary training and many a practice run, she learned a lot about ecological protection herself, enabling her to vividly convey the significance of the related programs to visitors.

Xiao Jin (second right), a teacher at Sinolink Primary School in Shenzhen, is awarded a certificate of excellence by a representative of the Shenzhen-based Vision Education Foundation for her performance when she partook in a teaching capacity improvement program initiated by the foundation, on May 5 (WANG WEI)

Participation is primary 

As a teacher with 30 years of experience in the field, Xiao Jin, currently working at Sinolink Primary School, remains passionate about learning—i.e., learning how to better help her students.

Last year, she participated in a teaching capacity improvement program. The program was launched by the Shenzhen-based Vision Education Foundation in 2017. So far, it has trained more than 3,400 teachers across China.

"We offer those teachers online courses and sometimes organize hybrid sharing meetings," Gong Hongjiang, the foundation's Executive Secretary General, told Beijing Review. 

There are two ways to apply for the program. One is for the teacher to apply personally and the foundation then selecting eligible participants based on their background; but with limited funds, some applications will get denied. The other option is for people who donate to the foundation to recommend trainees. For example, Xiao was recommended by the mother of one of her students. The mother had signed up for one of the foundation's online courses herself to learn how to better communicate with her daughter and noticed the organization also provided free courses to selected teachers. She figured it would be meaningful and decided to make a monthly donation of 30 yuan ($4.3) to the Vision Education Foundation.

With the development of digital platforms, making small monthly donations to a good cause of one's choice has become the popular thing to do in China. With one tap of their mobile screen, people can learn about different charities on their phones and choose one or more they are interested in—and proceed to set up a donation plan. The charities diligently update the related processes on their respective mobile platforms.

"Donations from the general public make up a large chunk of our operation funding," Gong said.

Via the Vision Education Foundation, parents and teachers team up to create new opportunities for their children and students. "We hope to achieve harmony among society, school and family to better help students as they grow up," Gong said.

The rapidly evolving society has its effects on student mental health and according to Xiao, this is something worth looking into a little deeper. She has applied what she'd learned from the program to help improve her students' abilities to communicate and to think about who they are or what they want instead of purely focusing on academic scores.

"Show them more love," she said. One of her students, who was very shy and withdrawn before, now also actively engages in conversation with his parents at home thanks to Xiao's encouragement.

Suffering serves a purpose 

The outcomes Shenzhen's social organizations have reached are always encouraging, but the journey to getting these results is often long and hard.

Just imagine a classroom of a dozen children with communication disorders and autism. Four to five staffs in the room need to not only teach them how to properly communicate, but also have to calm them down at times. This is the everyday scenario at the Shenzhen Qingqing Speech Rehabilitation Service Center where children receive speech and language therapy.

The center is named after founder Wu Xueling's daughter. In 2000, at the age of 1, Qingqing was diagnosed with severe sensorineural deafness. With the support of a foundation from Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Qingqing got cochlear implants at the age of 2. These electronic devices are surgically implanted into a person's cochlea and act as a replacement ear to bypass the damaged systems preventing normal hearing. Children with severe hearing loss may be candidates for a cochlear implant when they are as young as 9 months of age.

However, going from hearing to speaking was another long journey. It took two months to teach Qingqing to say the word "mom." Wu also participated in a correspondence course for parents with hearing-impaired children. Qingqing's hearing was eventually restored.

But the long and winding road of suffering actually served a greater good. After realizing the deficiencies in the rehabilitation treatment of hearing-impaired children in China, Wu went on to sell her house, using the money to establish the center and give more children the chance to benefit from the therapy it offers—1,500 children in total, so far.

The center now also helps parents and children connect with different cochlear implant manufacturers and raises money for families who cannot afford the devices or need other help. With Wu's unremitting efforts and the input from the government, organizations and many parents, the center's staff, facilities and overall environment are increasingly all coming together—full circle, even.

Though the three stories are very different, they do share a common denominator: people helping people by engaging in charitable undertakings. They're all showing society some love.

(Reporting from Shenzhen,Guangdong Province) 

(Print Edition Title: Show Some Love!) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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