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March 10, 2010

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Expo volunteers push wheelchairs,learn about culture - and cranky visitors

OFFICE workers take leave, university students leave class and retired people give up their leisure time to train to be World Expo 2010 lead volunteers.

One training camp for 600 people was held last Thursday and Friday at the China Welfare Institute Children's Palace. It's one of many trainings that will be held to prepare volunteers for all eventualities.

Various games, exercises and role play helped ready them to serve at 1,095 Expo stations with 130,000 volunteers throughout the city. These 600 will be the leaders.

They played games, did exercises and role play to learn about team building and how to deal with people with disabilities, people in emergencies and people who are rude and disagreeable. They also learned about cultural distinctions and being culturally sensitive.

The volunteers will need many physical skills and people skills during the 184-day Expo that opens on May 1.

In one training camp exercise, people were running and pushing wheelchairs in a race; each team was comprised of the person pushing the wheelchair and the person seated in it. The one pushing the chair should also pass a clear sentence to the mate seated in the chair.

Lang Ye, a 30-year-old Chinese language teacher in a local high school, was the first to cross the finish line. But he got a low score because he failed to put foot rests down and bend down to speak to his teammate in the wheelchair, says Zhou Li, a camp tutor.

If Lang were serving a physically challenged visitor, the visitor's feet would touch the ground. The correct way is to push the chair at medium speed, and when approaching the destination, apply the brake and put the foot rests down.

In another exercise, five people formed a group. All but the leaders were blindfolded. Members stood in line and put their hands on the shoulders of the person ahead. The leaders, standing in front, gave them instructions to step over various ropes and maneuver within boundaries without tripping attached bells.

"Raise your left foot. Turn your body around to the right. Then raise your right foot slowly," Yang Ping, a 25-year-old white collar in a logistics company, told her group.

But one person snagged the rope and the bell rang.

"It's not easy to guide people who are visually impaired and it's more difficult in real situations," says Yang. Team member Xu Jia, who set off the bell, says she experienced for a few minutes what it would be like to be visually impaired and feel helpless. The experience will help her better serve visitors, she says.

Games also simulated subway accidents and fires when volunteers would need to use first aid and guide people to safety, says trainer Zhi Zhiyong.

The multi-cultural training required trainees to identify the national dress of countries such as Japan, Scotland, India, Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and of Chinese minorities, such as Tibetan and Mongolian.

The most difficult training concerned how to deal with difficult visitors.

"Why can't we bring a bottle of water into the Expo site? I'm likely to get thirsty," says one trainee in a role play exercise.

For security reasons, visitors will not be allowed to bring water or other beverages into the Expo site.

"There are many shops within the site where the price of drinks are the same as outside," says Shen Feifei, a 24-year-old mediator working in a local community. The "rude visitor" finally gave up and handed over the drink.

"I felt unprepared when this exercise began," says Shen. "But now I believe I can handle this kind of case."

Many senior citizens took part.

Zhu Lu'er, 65, pushed a wheelchair just as fast as other volunteers in their 20s. He also gives clear instruction to his teammate. In the blindfold exercise, he carefully guided his team members to move precisely and no one touched the ropes that set off bells.

Zhu, a Shanghai native, is one of the oldest trainees. He is retired from a munitions factory in Chongqing Municipality. He went there to work 40 years ago after graduating from Fudan University with a degree in chemical engineering.

"I have a deep affection for Shanghai after such a long separation, so last May I applied online to be an Expo volunteer," he says.

To his surprise, he was recruited in the first batch of volunteers last September, because he speaks fluent Japanese. Twenty years ago Zhu's factory sent him to Japan to study.

He now leads a six-member group.

"I was a department director at the factory before retiring, so I can organize a group very well," he says. "I'm very healthy and I think I can complete my tasks perfectly."

During the Expo, people can find the volunteer service stations at the Hongqiao and Pudong international airports, railway and Metro stations and the lobbies of most hotels, says Zhang Yujin, deputy director of the Expo Volunteer Training Center.

The stations will have first-aid kits, free maps and other common items.

Most volunteers come from local companies but no one has encountered any difficulties in asking for leave for the training, Zhang says.

Most companies support their employees' participation and some even require staff to take part, she says.

Some of the group members from the training session will work together in the same stations at the Expo.

The training can help them work together and mesh perfectly, she says.


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