An inspiring volunteer makes a difference

By ZHANG YANGFEI(CHINA DAILY)Updated: 2020-10-10

Fame can sometimes come at unexpected moments, like a welcome but uninvited guest knocking on the door. This was the case for Wang Xiukun. In April, after attending a live webinar organized by the United Nations' Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, the 23-year-old graduate student found herself at the center of a blaze of online fame.

What made her stand out was not only the 4-minute speech in fluent English, but also the fact that she, as the only Chinese youth representative, shared with tens of thousands of young people across the world how China had coped with the pandemic, as well as her personal story of volunteering and participating in this global fight.

The webinar, titled Coping With COVID-19, was one of a series of such events designed particularly for young people around the world to address mental health issues. Wang, a German major student from Wuhan University in Hubei province, the area hardest stricken by the disease in China, was selected to represent Chinese youth for the volunteer project she launched in February. This project provided mental assistance, companionship and online tutoring for children of frontline medical workers.

In fact, Wang has always been an enthusiast in volunteering. When she was 5, a colleague of her father was dispatched to an African country on UN peacekeeping missions and that blue helmet left a deep impression in her young mind.

Encouraged by her parents, Wang, still in primary school, started engaging in community services such as helping clean the streets to protect the city's image, providing care for the elderly and patients infected with HIV and helping small animals in a mountainous area in her hometown, Jinan in Shandong province.

She now serves as the deputy director of Wuhan University Youth Volunteer Center and is chairman of the graduate student association of the university's School of Foreign Languages and Literature.

When the disease broke out in January in Wuhan, Wang had already returned to her home in Jinan for a winter break. After Wuhan entered lockdown and the news about the novel coronavirus began flooding in, she became more anxious every day, worrying about the safety of her teachers and friends in Hubei.

Not being able to contribute on the frontline, Wang kept thinking about what she could do to help combat the pandemic. That's why when Wuhan University set up a volunteer group called "Youth Raiding Unit for Epidemic Prevention and Control" on Jan 22, she signed up immediately.

At first, her job was helping with deliveries and managing online information platforms. On Feb 9 while contacting local medical workers, she accidently heard one of them mentioning "if only my child staying at home could be reassured".These words sparked an idea.

"On the one hand, I think these medical workers were afraid that their children being left alone at home would be lax in studying and on the other hand, they were worried that their children would feel anxious," she said.

This worry has shifted Wang's attention to the education and mental health of frontline medical workers' children.

She and other four companions who had rich volunteer experience soon launched an online voluntary service to cater for this particular urgent need of medical professionals.

Their plan was to note down all the special needs these parents had for their children and match these children with volunteers that would provide psychological counseling and education tutoring.

They released the volunteer recruitment notice on Feb 11 and had only expected a few hundred applications. But to their great surprise, they received more than 3,000 within 48 hours. "I was very moved. I felt that young people in this era really had the sense of responsibility and were willing to make an effort to fight the epidemic," she said.

In the end, they set up three chat groups of about 500 people and stayed overnight to screen all the information of these volunteers, including their expertise and subjects preferences, and match them with children. Her final statistics show that they recruited 1,549 volunteers during the program who helped 641 children aged from 5 to 18.

The teaching and counseling officially kicked off on Feb 13. Wang herself was allocated with an 8-year-old girl surnamed Sun and was responsible for teaching her English. Although still very young, Sun could realize that her parents' work was highly dangerous, Wang said.

"We talked to them like brothers and sisters. We told them that we were there with them and that they didn't have to worry too much about their parents because they would soon overcome the epidemic and return home," Wang said, adding that they tried to help the children understand how great and noble their parents' works were.

They also organized activities that would help divert children's attention from the epidemic, such as reading a book together and exchanging ideas about the book.

Each child was assigned with a group of volunteers who covered all the subjects the child picked to learn. Each group also had a leader to record and report the child's progress. They even set up a lesson preparation team for each subject and invited volunteers with teaching experiences and professional primary and secondary teachers to train them.

During this volunteer service period, Wang worked an average of more than eight hours every day. Although tired, Wang said when they received many thank-you letters from medical professionals, pictures painted by these children as well as short videos, they felt the experience very rewarding.

Another aspect that really touched Wang's heart was the response from medical workers they helped. She said whenever the volunteers sent them a message, the medical workers always replied at two or three o'clock in the morning because they were too busy to check their phones during the day. But when they did reply, their words were always very heart-warming.

The project officially came to an end on June 20. But Wang and her team did not stop servicing. In August when she finally went back on campus, she and her teammates turned the project from online to offline by establishing three physical classrooms in Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University and offering a 10-day class as a "follow-up" education.

The new project has attracted 48 children to sign up and a hundred of volunteers to take part in. They called it "Dream House" and the first period lasted from Aug 20 to 30.In addition to teaching subjects, they also organized events including trips to a local patriotism education base and a space center and designed special courses that could help children better understand their parents' occupation.

"The smiles on children's faces, the progress they've made, and the gratitude from their parents are the highest recognition for us," she said.

Wang said next they wish to promote the project to a broader audience nationwide, and, since she has the contact details of the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, she is thinking extending this service to children of peacekeeping military and international medical workers. The envoy has already sent her support, she added.

zhangyangfei@chinadaily.com.cn