China Volunteers in Africa (1st of 2 parts)

Bolaji Odofin – China-Africa reporting project

In Nigeria there’s trouble to the north. An Islamist terrorist group devastates vulnerable communities, massacring residents and bombing public places. The group is incoherent, ideologically absurd, and deadly. In six years it has claimed over ten thousand lives.

That didn’t deter Liu Jie, who quit her job in China to volunteer in the region. Jie served in the city of Kaduna, working in HIV/AIDS prevention with Volunteer Service Organisation (VSO). She is one of many professionals who have left China for one to two year stints in African countries. Zhang Wenxi, an Ob-gyn from Chongqing, spent a year in Tanzania. Wang Fanying went to Malawi. Huang Yuan lectured in Sierra Leone. Stephanie Wong, Zou Yan and Li Kun served in Zambia, Kenya and Uganda. Zhang Liang, a surgeon from Shen Yang province, spent twelve months volunteering in Ethiopia.

China has over a billion citizens and 4000 years of recorded history. In 2005 its youths officially launched themselves at the developing world. China’s Young Volunteer program sprang from its Youth League and began to dispatch the willing. The country’s central government would occasionally request volunteers from provinces for a particular African country. Youths from Guangzhou went to Seychelles. Shenzhen sent people to Togo. They worked in construction, education, information technology, engineering and health.

“Chinese volunteers showed great enthusiasm for their work and dedication to the tasks in the countries in which they were placed,” said VSO chief Philip Goodwin by email.

Kanton Tam, a Hong Kong resident, currently serves in South Sudan with United Nations Volunteers. Since 1981, according to a study, nearly 200 Chinese supported NGO development, micro finance, cultural heritage protection, HIV and AIDS prevention, migration, environmental protection and poverty alleviation in over 35 countries as international UN Volunteers.

“In Chinese society, volunteerism is based on the core values of family and community cohesion,” commented UNV chief Flavia Pansieri on the study. “Such a solid foundation provides the perfect environment for volunteerism to thrive in China.”

But what do these volunteers actually experience on the African continent?

The Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation Médecins Sans Frontières furnishes emergency medical relief to populations in conflict zones and disaster areas around the globe.

In the second part to this article (published on Wednesday 2 Dec 2015), we interview Chai Xi, from Beijing, who is a volunteer on field missions with MSF.

Bolaji Odofin writes under the FOCAC China-Africa reporting project administered by the University of the Witwatersrand.

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