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October 26, 2009

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Surge of support for quake kids

SHANGHAI has opened its heart to survivors of the Sichuan Province earthquake and has contributed generously to relief and reconstruction. Education too is a priority and there's a trend to volunteer as teachers.

Both individuals and enterprises are committed to helping students, knowing the future of the region lies with the younger generation.

The earthquake last May 12 left 90,000 dead or missing. Since then, many Shanghai folks have volunteered to help in many ways.

In one of the latest examples of heartwarming charity, more than 10,000 locals and expats have applied to be volunteer teachers in Sichuan in "Building for Our Future" next month.

It's a five-day education-aid program that starts on November 15 in the new CapitaLand Green Hope School in Muchuan County. It is about four hours' ride from Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province, to get there.

After an online vote, 15 will be chosen by experts, based on the school's actual needs.

Organized by CapitaLand (China) and Touchmedia, the volunteer program has attracted applicants from all walks of life, including overseas students, office workers, public servants, university students and teachers.

Applicants sent teaching plans in many fields, such as science, photography, computer skills, English, art and many aspects of Chinese culture, such as Kunqu Opera.

"People wonder how kids live and study in Sichuan - some just wonder and some do something about it, going there to help directly," says Tan Su Ching, deputy general manager of corporate services of CapitaLand (China) Investment Co Ltd.

"This teaching plan is a big highlight. We pick only the candidates with special talents."

The program will also include a World Expo 2010 class, explaining Expo history and what the world's fair in Shanghai will offer.

Wu Jianzhong, head of the Shanghai Library and an Expo consultant, has given a demonstration class to some of the candidates.

"It is really rare that so many common people have applied for such a teaching event in the name of charity," says Wu.

"People who volunteer to teach for several years in rural areas deserve our respect. And those volunteer teachers who work for a shorter time can also help.

"Time is short but they can give kids hope."

The volunteer citizens will be accompanied by celebrity volunteers.

Zhang Jun, the famous Kunqu Opera actor in Shanghai, will accompany the 15 volunteers to give Kunqu Opera lectures and performances in Sichuan. He's taking props, costumes and 10 performers along.

"Interest in traditional opera needs to be cultivated from an early age. This is a good platform to promote Kunqu Opera among the younger generation.

"If possible, I can select kids with performing talent as potential apprentices," he says.

Hong Kong actor Ray Lui, who has been doing charity work since 1999, will give lectures and live with the kids during the tutorial trip.

"Besides getting good teaching, kids should get moral guidance in the correct way of thinking, learning rules and forming the right values," Lui says.

"Justice and integrity are what we need to tell them. My goal is to give them faith. People with money or skills can wholeheartedly help the underprivileged."

Micky Fung, chairman and chief executive officer of Touchmedia, says people nowadays are exposed more information about charity.

"In the past, people found it hard to get fully involved in a charity program, in spite of their interest. They thought charity is what entertainers do for more exposure to the media and fame," Fung says.

That's changing, he says. Nowadays some volunteers devote their entire annual leave to teach kids.

"Five days are not enough, but that time can influence kids for a lifetime."

German expat donates 400 computers

Dr Tilo Weiss, a German businessman, has donated 400 second-hand company laptop and desktop computers to Hanwang School in Mianyang, Sichuan Province.

He is head of purchasing for Henkel Asia Pacific and soon he is sending employees to help students learn how to use those computers.

Dr Weiss himself spent three days as a volunteer teacher, giving a basic presentation about Germany, explaining differences and similarities between Chinese people and German people. He helped the students practice their English.

He's a busy man but it was important to make time for those three days.

"There's no such thing as 'too busy' when it comes to helping people in need," Weiss says. "As a foreigner in China I also want to contribute to society here, so I set priorities and freed up some time to go to Sichuan."

Children were thrilled by his presentation and asked for his autograph.

"It was the first time anyone wanted my autograph," he says. "I was very impressed by students' interest in the volunteers, by their knowledge of English language and by the fun they had in a very difficult environment."

Dr Weiss says he doesn't want Sichuan's children to "suffer twice from the earthquake: first during the disaster and second during the difficulties afterward.

"I hope these children can have the same opportunities as other children in China and around the globe."


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