The story appears on

Page A8

January 6, 2017

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Helping a community by becoming part of it

MOST Chinese tend to think of community social workers as late middle-aged women who mediate disputes among neighbors. Wang Qiuyue breaks that stereotype.

A journalism graduate from Heilongjiang University, Wang worked in Canada for a number of years and studied in the United States before returning to China in her 30s. She now leads a team of mostly 20-something social workers.

Wang, 43, a native of Harbin, is executive director of Shanghai Yanze Social Services, which won the bid to operate the No. 3 Yanji Neighborhood Community Center in northeastern Shanghai’s Yangpu District in 2011.

This is a profession she not only loves but executes with efficiency and heart.

In the center, with a big map of China pinned to the wall, children aged 6-12 excitedly identify their hometowns with the help of a young social worker. The children are all from migrant families.

After sharing memories about hometowns, the children are encouraged to talk about their feelings and anxieties they have about their new lives in Shanghai. “Why did I have to leave my hometown?” “Why are my parents so busy that we hardly see them?”

“The children are sensitive about the change, though they tend to keep silent about it,” says Wang. “They need someone to talk to and give them guidance. I hope that we can give them that support.”

Several weeks later, another session at the center was held for both parents and children. The team was very pleased that 11 of the 16 invited families attended.

“At that session, some parents heard their children’s anxieties for the very first time,” Wang says. “It was also the first time some of the children were told their parents’ hopes for the future. They love and care about each other. All they need is a better communication.”

Wang stumbled into social work while working as a volunteer at a hospital in Canada. Her task was to serve as a translator between Canadian doctors and Chinese patients. It taught her how important social services can be in improving people’s lives.

“I was making a change for the better,” Wang says. “The results were obvious and quick. The moment I was there, the language barrier between doctors and patients melted away.”

Since then, she has participated in various social projects, including orientation services for new immigrants.

While in North America, Wang studied social work at York University in Canada.

In 2009, she and her husband returned to Shanghai as part of a wave of returning overseas Chinese encouraged by the government. Wang says her husband has always supported her interests and ambitions. The couple has no children.

Wang is an outgoing woman, who laughs often and doesn’t mince words. She commutes an hour to work and often puts in 12-hour days. The job is not without its frustrations. She remembers negotiating with grassroots authorities about what services a community center should provide. The authorities seemed to be content with basic services like umbrella repairs and knife sharpening, while Wang pushed for more personal and engaging services.

When the couple returned to China, Wang first worked for a Shanghai-based nongovernmental organization. Her first project was to start up a neighborhood center in the Yanji Community in Yangpu District.

She says she had to adapt what she learned in North America.

“Chinese communities are very different from those in Canada,” she says. “A community-based worker’s role in Canada is more like a professional service provider, whereas in China you have to function more as a neighbor and friend.”

It would be considered improper, for example, for social workers in China to complain to authorities if they were harassed by angry or rude residents. The trick is to build up a proper relationship with the residents.

Before setting up the center, Wang and her team spent 10 days talking with residents to hear their expectations, needs and suggestions for the new center.

“Based on good feedback, the project started smoothly,” she says. “That was largely because the services we provided were based on residents’ needs. No one can deny that the residents themselves know what their community really needs most.”

Senior citizens comprise about a third of the population in the Yanji Community, so they became the first target of Wang and her team. A social club for the elderly was initiated, with regular programs of interest to those residents. The programs included information on healthy lifestyles and government policies, psychological services and short dramas aimed at helping older people spot fraud.

Activity rooms are provided for free, and seniors with similar interests were encouraged to form small social groups.

The center staff also gives guidance about organizing events. So far, 22 social circles have been formed by the residents themselves, each with at least 10 members.

“Many residents, especially those who are middle-aged and elderly, have really good ideas about how to enrich community life,” Wang says. “We respect their ideas and encourage their enthusiasm.”

When she started the Yanze Social Services in 2011 and won the contract to operate No. 3 Yanji Neighborhood Community Center, Wang decided to expand services to include teenagers and migrant children.

She and her team initiated the Little Pine Tree Club, where teens could publish their own magazine and produce short films. One recent film tackled the issue of school bullying and was aired in schools across the community.

“The children sometimes laughed when they saw their classmates acting, but at the same time, the film conveyed a serious message about a serious problem,” says Wang.

She says her team has grown from the initial two members to 12 in the past five years, but she still wishes she had more hands on deck to tackle all the projects swirling around in her mind.

“I am proud of my work but never satisfied,” she says. “It’s all still short of my ideal of a dream community, where everybody’s needs are met. We still have a lot to do.”

Community centers are expanding across Shanghai. Wang and her team are now participating in the Yangpu project and another similar center in Jing’an District.

Government funding for such centers has been dwindling over the years due to budget constraints. Now that investment amounts to less than 60 percent of costs, with private charities, companies and foundations picking up the slack.

Community social work doesn’t really attract many younger people. The job is low in social status and salaries aren’t attractive. “Right now, we can’t help everybody solve all their problems, so we have to focus on the services that are most critically needed,” she says.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend