Friday, January 22, 2010

Volunteering in China - charitable projects

Hi all

I have two trips planned to Asia in March & May (and another to Japan in July, but we'll skip that since this is a Mandarin blog :-) ... and I am looking for your input. Please.

One of the things I'd like to do while in China is volunteer on some kind of charitable project for a week or so.  I've done some research, and found some ideas - but perhaps you know of others?

Although I'd like to pretend that my interests are purely altruistic, there is of course a (slightly) selfish side. This would expose me to a different type of China experience, and perhaps give me an opportunity to practice my Mandarin in a non foreigner-in-big-city kind of way!

These are some of the ideas I've come across so far, but would really appreciate it if you could leave comments with other ideas, websites or suggestions.

  • Volunteer teaching in Beijing
This is organised by Gap Year in Asia, and is my most likely option at the moment. You can start at any date, and assignments last from 1 week to 12 weeks. This includes a choice (or mix) of working at the following places: Orphanage, Charity for the Disabled, School for Poor Children, Project for the Children of Convicts, School for Disabled Children, Charity for Autistic Children. Activities would include teaching English, caring for children, working with disabled children.
  •  Friends of Dulwich College, Beijing
The charity work done by this organisation covers a foster home, a life centre for disadvantaged children, care for children, and Harmony outreach. Their site talks about projects you can work on, but it also seems that you can volunteer on work which simply involves email address. Good for non-residents of China?
  • Bean in Shanghai
According to the BEAN website, "BEAN is a networking, volunteering, and social group for young professionals in Shanghai. It affords many awesome opportunities for busy, young professionals to network, socialize, and make a difference." Although I think what they do is a great idea, it seems to be more short-project based - ideal for people already living in Shanhai.
  • Compassion for Migrant Children
This group  also takes on volunteers, but I get the sense they're looking for people who might be happy to volunteer on an ongoing basis (I guess if you live in China) - rather than me who is looking for something to last about a week.
  •  The Library Project
 Their website talks about ways you could volunteer - but again, this appears to be more of an ongoing commitment rather than just spending a week with them.
  • SOS Children's Villages
This is the China branch of their international network. Interestingly, they state on their website that they prefer not to use short-term volunteers - because they believe the children benefit more from long-term relationship with their teachers and helpers. For those who don't have time, you could always sponsor a child.
  • Chinese Children Orphan Sponsorship
If sponsoring a child is your preference, this is organised by Chinese Children Adoption International, where you could sponsor a children for as little as $40 a month.
  • Western Academy of Beijing
In the charity section of their website, they list the details of about a dozen charities.  As far as I can tell, there don't appear to be any volunteer projects available - but plenty of opportunities to donate money to a cause that means something to you.

I was convinced than when I trawled through the Net there would be so many options to volunteer on projects - and yet, as you can see, I'm struggling to find many choices.

So if you know of projects that might be of interest, or you know of someone who might know of projects of interest, please leave a comment.  I'd love to help.



  1. I think teaching English would not be a good idea since it would contradict your wanting to practice Mandarin.

  2. Hi Keith, thanks for stating it like it is :-) The way I see it as follows:

    - Although I enjoy learning Mandarin, I have also grown a fascination with China and its people. This trip will allow me to work on both.
    - English lessons will not be entirely in English, especially - I think - the groups of people that I might be teaching.
    - I still have late afternoons and evenings (and weekends) to play in Mandarin.

    Finally, it's worth noting that I haven't definitely decided which project I'll work on. I'm still open to suggestions ...

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Have you checked
    Also, as a traveler, you could sign up on couchsurfing and stay with a Chinese person. I can't stress how much insight this gives you into a different culture.
    There's also (help exchange) - registration is about 20 euros for two years' worth of access to their database - you can find hosts almost anywhere in the world, you do some type of work in exchange for meals and a place to stay. It's similar to WWOOF. And I think it's the cheapest way to "volunteer". Since voluntourism is growing, there's not much free-free volunteering going on.

    Hope you find what you need.


  4. Just an update on my attempts to speak with the above organisations ...

    * I got in touch with GapYearInAsia who replied with just one message that they'd be happy to help. But they never replied to any of my emails or phone messages. They seem to do worthy things, so I hope I'll eventually hear from them.

    * I have been corresponding with Sheila Seiler who is president of BEAN. She generously offered to help me find a project in Shanghai - although I don't think I'll be there on this trip. Very helpful, and very quick to reply.

    * Margaret from Friends of Dulwich has been really helpful, and I'm currently answering some more of her questions, to see what relevant projects she might be able to find for me.

  5. Linda, thanks for your reply. You've actually opened up my eyes to some amazing ideas - I wish I'd seen some of this stuff earlier.

    For the convenience of others, here are live links of the various sites that Linda referred to:

    Couch Surfing
    This is where people offer their couch (or spare room) to travellers, and they have the opportunity to share the facilities of others.
    This is a very comprehensive site that gives people access to do so many things - you should check it out. I've limited myself to a link about volunteer projects in China.

    Certain places (usually farms and schools?) are looking for people to come over and help them out for a few hours a day. In return, you get to stay there and share in meals.

    WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)
    This is an exchange program where all meals, accommodation and genuine learning & experience are given to the visitor in return for helping the Host with work for about 5 hours a day. No money changes hands.

  6. Here are a couple of other links, for the sake of completeness, that I wanted to add to the variety of links already listed above.

    Mother's Choice (HK, China, India, Cambodia)

    Tzu Chi (Taiwan, China, Hong Kong)