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Good deeds indeed at Expo

CHARITIES of all kinds are getting a big boost at the World Expo 2010 Shanghai, where helping others is a big part of building a better city for a better life.

The ideals of charity and volunteering are catching on all over China and every few days there's a charity-related event at the Expo site. The huge place is flung open to people in need on special days and the Life and Sunshine Pavilion demonstrates the daily needs and potential of disadvantaged communities.

The Expo is a place for raising awareness about issues ranging from physical disabilities to the environment.

Government departments, NGOs and enterprises have all used the Expo as an opportunity for charity events of many kinds.

Some have invited people in need to visit the Expo site, others have donated facilities such as wheelchairs to the park.

They have done it for different reasons, including image-building for public relations.

Many enterprises in China have come to realize that they can change their relation with the community to some extent through active participation in charity events, according to researcher Lu Hanlong from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

In an earlier interview, he said taking part in charitable activities "will help them attract and motivate employees as well as improve their public images."

His views are borne out in a recent survey, "Enterprises and Charity," released by the academy.

Asked how charity events will benefit their companies, respondents cited three reasons: to build harmonious relations with the community; to attract and encourage employees; and to improve public image.

Most enterprises expect something in return for carrying out charity events, Lu says.

Because of its enormous international scope and scale, the Expo gives major opportunities for government departments and NGOs to encourage enterprises to get involved in their communities through charity events.

The six-month Expo also covers many anniversaries and special dates and international observances. It brings together NGOs, which reach out to people in need, and enterprises, which have deep pockets. They cooperate on innovative charity events.

Quake survivors

NGOs and enterprises come together at the Expo. For example, thousands of survivors of the Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008, visited the Expo, for free. The quake killed nearly 70,000 people.

One group of visitors were people with disabilities suffered in the 7.8-magnitude quake. They came from Mianzhu, one of the worst-hit areas. They visited the China and France pavilions, as well as the Life and Sunshine Pavilion for people who are disadvantaged, and those who care about them.

The visit was sponsored by the NGO Handicap International.

"Disability is not something you can fix with only physical care, because social inclusion is also a major element," explained Jean Van Wetter, China country director for Handicap International.

"That's why we need long-term projects in such areas (as Sichuan) and that's why such a trip to the Expo is helpful."

Ji Miwa, a middle-aged woman who has leg problems, never dreamed her visit to the World Expo Shanghai could be so smooth and convenient, with wheelchairs and warm-hearted volunteers to help all day.

Ji was among 250 elderly people and those with disabilities who paid a special visit to the Expo last month - a real treat since they are homebound much of the time, shut-ins unless people help and take them out.

They were helped at the Expo by 100 volunteers from companies under the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

Ji and others were among the first group of locals with disabilities who benefited from the Red Wheelchair Day program. It provides 500 wheelchairs for senior citizens and people with disabilities to enjoy monthly tours of the Expo through October.

The initiative is part of AmCham Shanghai's Make a Difference Corporate Volunteer Alliance and was co-organized by the Wheelchair Foundation and Shanghai Youth Volunteer Association.

"I hope that wheelchair facilities could be scattered around the city one day," Ji says. "By doing that people like me would have less trouble when leaving their homes."

Ji and others were taken in small groups around the Expo site with the help of volunteers.

They visited various pavilions, such as the USA Pavilion, the Asia Joint Pavilion, the South Africa Pavilion and the Africa Joint Pavilion.

They also visited the Life and Sunshine Pavilion, which demonstrates the everyday challenges that disadvantaged communities face. These visitors understand the problems very well - it's the general public that needs education.

Hearing help

People who are hearing-impaired have special problems appreciating the World Expo, since much of the experience is auditory.

To help the hearing-impaired, students from Shanghai Jianqiao College devised a detailed Expo tourism plan for these "special" visitors at the Xinfei 2010 SIFE China National Competition in May. It is a national contest among university students coming up with ideas to help those with hearing problems.

According to the plan, they will organize an Expo visit in September for 250 hearing-impaired visitors aided by student guides using International Sign Language.

The initiative is supported by the Shanghai Association for the Deaf, and 23,800 yuan (US$3,480) has been raised for the project in a charity bazaar selling artworks by hearing-impaired people.

"Everyone has the right to travel and the hearing-impaired are no exception. They have the same appetite for tourism, no less than other people," says Wu Weilin, a third-year tourism management major from Shanghai Jianqiao College.

"But seemingly small things may become great hurdles when hearing-impaired people travel," Wu says, citing safety issues when travelers cannot understand their guides. Furthermore, there's not enough written information for these travelers.

Wu says they plan themed Expo trips, such as visits involving family fun and photography.


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