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Volunteers Reach Across Country to Help Elderly

A woman volunteer chats with elderly people in Pengmen Village of Wan'an County, Jiangxi. Li Wancheng

The group of 15 volunteers brought more than just medical advice, money and other necessities they also brought a few smiles.

Gao Ju'e, a 78-year-old old woman from Pengmen Village in Wan'an County, Jiangxi Province, was filled with happiness after chatting with the visiting government officials, doctors, teachers, college students and retired workers last weekend.

The trip was the brainchild of a retired policeman from Hong Kong surnamed Chan, and an elderly man surnamed Tsang from Taiwan. The two men have lived in Shenzhen, Guangdong, for about eight years since their retirement and often donate money to poor villagers. Chan, who can speak eight foreign languages, also offers free English classes to people in Shenzhen.

Chan and Tsang were inspired to organize the trip after reading on the Internet that there were many elderly people living alone in Jiangxi and other places. The two men appealed to people they knew to join them on a trip to help elderly.

And so last weekend the troupe set out to Jiangxi to spend a day in the village, helping people like Gao address some of the problems that affect their daily lives.

In addition to the comforting heart-to-heart talks with the visitors, Gao also took advantage of the free health examinations the volunteers were offering.

Gao has been living alone ever since her husband died. Her children, two sons and a daughter, left the village to work in another city several years ago.

The volunteers offered general check-ups, treated illnesses and donated money and other goods. At the same time, they did what they could to empathize with the villagers. More than 10 elderly people who live alone in the poor village benefited from the volunteers' visit, according to a report in Jiangxi Daily.

Li Hui, an official from Nanshan District Bureau of Education who helped lead the trip, said many elderly villagers living in rural inland areas were living hardscrabble existences.

"More volunteers are needed to help elderly people living in empty-nest households," Li was quoted as saying by the paper.

He predicted that the number of empty-nest households would continue to grow in the coming months.

The volunteers learned that most of the young people in Pengmen Village were anxious to leave their village in search of work because of the depressed economic conditions there.

"That indicates that the number of elderly people who have to live alone or together with only their grandchildren will grow in the coming months," Li said.

And that trend shows no sign of stopping in the coming years. Li urged more people from the coastal cities to volunteer their time to help elderly people who are living in poor rural areas.

Pengmen Village is just one of many villages that have large numbers of empty-nest elderly people, he said.

Filial affection is a traditional virtue of Chinese culture, he added.

(China Daily March 31, 2007)

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