New way to make old friends

By Jiang Yuxia Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-4 20:55:05


Volunteers with residents of the Sijiqing Homes for the Elderly in the Haidan district Photo: Courtesy of New Path Foundation
Volunteers with residents of the Sijiqing Homes for the Elderly in the Haidan district Photo: Courtesy of New Path Foundation

Humorous, sincere and passionate, 28-year-old Qiao Jiafei is a natural with the seniors at the Sijiqing Homes for the Elderly in Haidian district. As he steps into the room of Cai Wenbo, 73, on a Sunday morning, Qiao gives a quick and warm hello, takes off his overcoat, plops himself in a chair, and starts talking and joking with him, just like good old friends usually do.

"When I first started visiting Cai three years ago, I could not understand what he was talking about, because he lisps and does not speak Putonghua. Then I learned he likes playing Chinese chess, and on my next visit we played chess and became good friends," says Qiao.

It's been four years since Qiao joined the Friendship in Sunset Program, a volunteer service to visit the elderly in nursing homes across Beijing. The project was initiated by the Beijing branch of the New Jersey-based NGO New Path Foundation.

Qian heard about the program via the Internet and since then has been visiting the seniors at the nursing home every other Sunday for at least two hours, chatting with them and trying to dispel any loneliness they may experience.

"Visiting them on a one-on-one basis (instead of in groups), you can have more personal interactions, and gradually can build a more intimate relationship," says Qiao, who works as a researcher in power and energy.

Besides Qiao, more people are joining the volunteer service to provide company to the elderly who are living in the city without children or family to care for them. As volunteer culture has been taking off in China in the past years, more individuals and companies are willing to offer help for those in need.

Many companies tend to show their good intentions on special occasions such as the Double Ninth Festival, a festival dedicated to showing respect and care for the Chinese elderly.

"Those companies might get a lot of media exposure for that, but that can bring a lot of harm to the elderly," says Ma Kaixuan, a 21-year-old student from Minzu University of China, who joined the Friendship in Sunset Program in March of this year.

One of the scenes that best depicts this is from the Chinese movie A Simple Life by Hong Kong director An Hui, Ma explains.

In the film, the elderly are more than happy to get visits from a company's volunteers and receive gifts from them. But the staff take back all the gifts after they finish videotaping the visit.

"The elderly are disappointed and their feelings are hurt as well," says Ma, who joined the program for the long-term services it has been offering in the last 10 years and training it offers to newcomers. 

The program, which is open to Chinese only, maintains a strict selection procedure and all volunteers need to commit to at least one year's service.

Previously, foreigners occasionally made visits to nursing homes along with their Chinese friends who were registered members of the program. But currently the program only admits Chinese, because of the language problem and the cost to provide training and administration to foreigners, according to project manager Jing Chun.

"The motivation is the most important thing for us and volunteers must be clear that they join the program because they want the elderly to be happy, not to meet their own desire of being a volunteer," says Jing.

Some candidates feel it is too big a responsibility to be with the program for one whole year, and then they withdraw their application.

The program pairs a volunteer with an elderly person based on their personality, preference and hobbies. Some of the elderly just need a listener, rather than someone who they can have conversations with. Some are showing signs of senility, and they just want someone to be there with them, says Qiao.

"It would be satisfying for them if a volunteer just held their hands and walked with them for a couple of hours," he says.

When spending time with the elderly, a positive attitude is essential, says Jessie Huang, 22, who started volunteering with the Friendship in Sunset Program about three months ago. "Because a lot of the elderly in the nursing home are in their 70s or 80s, some residents show fear towards death," says Huang, 22, who works in sales.

"What we need to do is to help them, and to relieve their worries," Huang says. "You can treat them like a member of your own family by telling them that you are looking forward to seeing them next time, or that your happiness is closely linked with theirs. Most of them will understand what you are talking about and once they grow close with you, they will look forward to your visits."


Posted in: Metro Beijing

blog comments powered by Disqus