Mo Feng could have been working as a doctor at the Shenzhen Disease
Control and Prevention Center in south China's Guangdong Province,
with a comfortable salary of 6,000 yuan (US$723) per month.
Instead, the 22-year-old Mo, who graduated from Peking University's
Health Science Center last June, chose to work as a volunteer in
the country's impoverished western regions.
More than 4,000 university graduates made the same decision last
year and joined the volunteer program organized by the Communist
Youth League of China.
The program is intended to provide the talent-starved western
regions with voluntary services provided by young
With the one-year program due to end next month, most of the
volunteers have chosen to extend their stays for another year.
"The sense of being needed is what strikes me most," Mo said.
"Before my voluntary service in a state-listed impoverished county
in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the local epidemic
prevention station had never had a college graduate working there,"
The volunteer work goes beyond the public health sector. Much of
western China suffers a dearth of professionals in all fields.
Although the population of the 12 western provinces and autonomous
regions accounts for 28.8 percent of the nation's total, only 15.5
percent of the country's educated professionals or skilled workers
the 16,543 vacant positions reported by the western regions last
year, the education sector accounted for 43.7 percent of the total,
followed by public health (20.2 percent) and agricultural
technology (19.3 percent).
the only college graduate in the small county's epidemic prevention
station, Mo said he was soon appointed assistant to the
the second half of last year he was dispatched to a nearby city to
be trained in SARS prevention. After his training concluded, Mo
toured the rural districts, lecturing grassroots epidemic
"They paid so much attention to my words in the lectures that some
wrote down everything I scribbled on the blackboard," he said. "It
really made me feel involved with something of great
Education is another sector that is extremely short of
professionals. The Communist Youth League Central Committee reports
that demand is highest for teachers.
Feng Ai, a graduate of Shanghai-based Fudan University, has worked
as a volunteer teacher in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous
Region and southwest China's Yunnan Province.
During her year in Ningxia, Feng worked with five other volunteers,
teaching at a high school and often giving additional tutoring on
weekends. Last year Feng was sent to teach alone at a high school
in Zhanhe County, Yunnan Province.
teach 30 hours a week, 28 days a month. Preparing lessons, teaching
and grading students' homework, I am very busy," she said.
But most of Feng's students have to spend an entire day walking
from home to school. Seeing this, Feng said, she has no qualms
about giving up her weekends to work.
The hard-working volunteers have won high praise from officials in
the western regions.
"Volunteers have helped a lot in our county, which is extremely
short of highly trained people," said Wu Yadong, vice-magistrate of
Ziyun County, Guizhou Province.
Schools, factories and other units that have benefited from
volunteer help are seeking additional volunteers this year, Wu
"In just a few days our county logged 300 unfilled positions
waiting for volunteers. The education sector alone needs at least
200 teachers," he said.
far, this year's program has received requests for volunteers to
fill more than 34,000 positions in the 12 western provinces and
autonomous regions, twice the number of 2003.
Faced with the increased demand, the Communist Youth League's
Central Committee said it will send 6,000 new young volunteers this
"They will go in addition to the 4,000 volunteers who went last
year and wished to stay for another year, so the number of
volunteers serving in western China will reach a total of 10,000
later this year," said Central Committee member Zhao Yong.
far, more than 49,000 college graduates have applied to join the
program, an increase of 13.4 percent from last year.
Mo's parents, rural farmers living in south China's Guangdong
Province, are not wealthy. But he wants to settle down and work in
the western regions for the rest of his life because, he says, "I
saw the huge gap between the developed east and the poor west with
my own eyes."
also said his short stay in Inner Mongolia has made him realize how
disease is linked with poverty.
The family of a girl who suffered hydrocephalus had to pay 10,000
yuan (US$1,200) for her treatment, but their annual income is only
a little more than 1,000 yuan (US$120).
really worry about how that girl's family can make a living in the
next 10 years," he said. "As a doctor, I should stay to help them
Feng said illness is the greatest fear among volunteers in
The village where she teaches is 3,000 meters above sea level and
the daily temperature often fluctuates more than 25 degrees. "So
every time we go to the county seat, we buy a lot of medicine," she
But compared with local children, Feng said the hardships she
endures are not really hardships at all.
"The dormitory for my students in Yunnan is made of wood, has no
windows, and there are cracks in the walls wider than a man's
fist," she said.
The students sleep on tattered bedding, and some are so poor that
they use gunnysacks for beds.
"And I cannot forget how a mother encouraged her child to study
hard," Feng said. "She told her daughter to study hard so that she
can wear a pair of leather shoes like me, which I bought for only
38 yuan (US$4.60) at the county town.
"Many people have asked me why I volunteer in Yunnan instead of
living a comfortable life in Shanghai. In my heart, I want to tell
them that being a volunteer in the western regions is to know what
happiness really is. I believe most volunteers share the feeling. I
know the lives of some people there have changed because of
(China Daily May 11, 2004)