Comparison and Contrasting the Role of Volunteerism in China and the U.S. essay

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It is hard to imagine the modern world without volunteerism. This phenomenon is widespread around the world, and it seems to become even more popular with every single year. Still, for some people, this notion can be unfamiliar, something they have never tried or never heard. Therefore, at the beginning of this research, it is important to clarify the term “volunteer”. This word comes from the Latin word “voluns” (choose) or “velle” (want). Thus, the choice and free will to help are the key elements of volunteering. There are still some differences in understanding on the West (e.g. USA) and East (e.g. China). Western understanding of volunteers refers to people who work for free to improve society without pursuing some personal benefits. These people work either within an organization or choose this option as their long-term behavior.

The Volunteer Association of China suggests a bit different definition: “Volunteers are people who provide services or assistance to society, not for material gains, but from a sense of conscience, faith and responsibility.” The way people call volunteers also range from one place to another. For instance, Hong Kong volunteers are called “Yi Gong (workers of duty)” and the ones in Taiwan are called “Zhi Gong (workers of will)” (Beijing 4).

Despite the peculiarities of each country, the universal meaning of volunteering is in society improvement. Volunteering does help humanity to evolve to a civilizing society. It is clear from observing the history of the world civilization. The first civilizations that developed from tribes thousands of years ago had to learn agricultural technology to progress further. One more thing they had to discover was the so-called “Golden Rule” (do unto others as you would they do unto you). At some point of its existence, society understood that it must join their efforts and stop stealing from one another. These steps guarantee the survival of any society. Following the golden rule, humanity has avoided the evolutionary deadlocks of selfish conflict and mindless conformity. Acting like one, a group can achieve much more allowing social evolution to occur. Humans became a civilization owing to seeking social gain, as well as individual gain.

In this context, one can notice that volunteering contributes to society evolution. The growth of non–government public service is the social innovation of the 21st century. As people of good will, volunteers pursue individual goals that do not damage society and help others when they can. Their activity gives value not just for the self but for the community, humanity and even the larger global environment. China claims even that the development of voluntary services has become a symbol of civilization and social progress.

The starting point of comparison between volunteering in China and the U.S. is about culture differences. The United States is the leading country in philanthropy for it exceeds other countries in charity and average time given for volunteering. In the USA, many non-profit organizations play an important role. In China, these functions are more often performed by local and national governments. In search for explanation, one should get in the root of the issue. First reason consists in the foundation of the country. The first American settlers wanted the society to be formed from the equal individuals that would help each other. This notion is enrooted in the social memory. Chinese people do not resemble Americans even close. These notions are alien to them. China has had a long tradition of putting the government above the people.

Second, American volunteerism comes from religion. The most common sources of volunteers are churches and synagogues. Even when Americans volunteer not for religion beliefs, they realize they can benefit from it for another reason. In China, volunteerism is seen with regard to service and sacrifice. This has been so for a long time and is just beginning to change. Chinese people are beginning to realize the point of volunteering.

As a final point, non-profit organizations in the United States can always rely on governmental financial aid. These include many organizations working with the homeless and other poverty-related issues. In China, there are few governmental volunteer organizations which can attain financial support from it. Much more organizations do not have official legal status, and they lack adequate financing. They do not cooperate as in the United States.

The interesting fact is that there are some factors upon which the rate of volunteerism depends. For those, specific term “volunteer activators” is used. This term means some significant historical events that make volunteering a more likely behavior in which to engage. Comparing volunteer activators in the U.S. and China, one should admit they are very different. Particularly, two very different events evoke a great wave of volunteerism in China in 2008. These included the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan and the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan (with over 70,000 victims) became a vivid example of how volunteering can mobilize people to respond to devastating natural disasters. Meanwhile, the Beijing 2008 Olympics and other sport events (including Shanghai 2010 Expo and Guangzhou Asian Games) gathered not only a wide audience but more than four million of officially registered volunteers. Since that record Year of Volunteering in China, the world has seen that mass events and disasters played an important role in Chinese volunteerism (China volunteer Report 2).

Something similar happened in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. It was a disaster in the eyes of society. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had an exceptional impact on the social behavior. Comparing to 2000, the volunteering rate made two- or threefold increase in 2001. The explanation is that, according to some scientists, people usually see the world as a just place where good people are rewarded, and bad people are punished. The deaths of more than three thousand people – innocent victims are seen as injustice by most of the Americans. Thus, they wanted to volunteer to restore the just world. As long as the whole story was in the media so that viewers saw so much injustice, people volunteered. The other aspect was that the government also encouraged people to volunteer. Hence, the key stimulators for volunteering were the disaster itself, the media that kept to heat and the governmental encouragement.

However, most people do not only respond to such obvious stimulators. They have their own reasons to volunteer. In China, there are six main reasons why people volunteer. They are the following: moral contentment (it gives meaning to the life of volunteers and encourages them to volunteer further); social changes (volunteers inspire other people to follow their example and do their duty to society); learning new skills (volunteers can improve their professional skills in the process of learning good teamwork); self-fulfillment (voluntary work develops one’s potential and fulfills one’s personal goals); getting new experiences and mental well-being (volunteer service helps to relieve volunteers’ own mental stress).

Comparing to that, the U.S. volunteers choose to be as such for quite different reasons. These include the following: feeling compassion toward people in need (over 96 %); an opportunity to give back to the community (91%); for social justice (people who have more should help those with less, over 90%); chance to help people volunteer respects (83.2%); involvement of volunteers’ friends or relatives (68.7); and meeting new people (66.4%) (Toppe 40).

Volunteers admit that they are inclined to volunteer when somebody asks them about it, when they believe in the honesty of charitable organizations and the importance of charitable organizations’ role in speaking out on important issues. According to the survey results, 66.67% respondents had done some voluntary work in the United States comparing to 50% who had done it in China. Both volunteers in China and in the U. S. stated that their experience was extremely meaningful or very meaningful. The majority of respondents left satisfied with a slight quantitative difference. It consists in 45.45% of very satisfied U.S. volunteers to 57.14 of extremely satisfied Chinese volunteers. After the successful experience of volunteering, 72.73% of the U.S respondents are going to volunteer again comparing to even higher percentage (85.71%) of the Chinese volunteers. Thus, contented volunteers are the key participants in the annual volunteering programs. They are more likely to keep on volunteering further.

Not only people from the U.S. and China have different motivation to volunteer, but they involve in different types of volunteer service, as well. The explanation is simple – different cultures have different needs. Particularly, in China, prevailing types of voluntarism include the following.

Participation in large-scale events. Olympic games 2008 were the culmination point of Chinese volunteering. After that, a regular and wide-ranging recruitment and training processes were introduced. Through this experience, a new model of volunteer management and recognition has been developed to allow for large-scale volunteer participation. Consequently, the more volunteers were involved, and the more economic contribution was made. It is evident that such volunteer experience and legacy have inspired large-scale volunteer programs in other cities in China, especially at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. It is one of the most popular types of involvement.

Support for the vulnerable, including helping the young, the disabled, the aged and the poor, as well as the environment (poverty alleviation). This group of people lives mostly in the West of China. For that reason, in 1999, the government started Go West Campaign for volunteers. Volunteers involved in this program usually go to the western regions to work there as teachers or administrators. More and more college graduates participate annually in this program.

Community volunteering service. There are many organizations for unprotected classes of society (women, disabled and elderly people). However, as many of the grass-roots organizations are illegal, it is difficult to establish their precise quantity in the country. Many of grass-roots organizations are dependent solely on volunteers’ activity.

Emergency response volunteering service. The 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake had a profound impact on the system of volunteering. Particularly, the size and intensity of the post-Wenchuan earthquake relief efforts were unprecedented in the volunteering history of China and have influenced the cooperation between government, volunteer groups and the private sector. In response, a number of volunteer organizations started an information-sharing policy. Secondly, the earthquake response brought together closer cooperation and strengthened the trust between government, citizens and volunteer organizations. A new model of cooperation was, therefore, formed in this process providing a fresh way in China for social management and social innovation. Modern volunteers are now acting towards this new model of cooperation.

Private Sector and Corporate volunteering. Recent increase of the number of corporations in China led to increase of corporate volunteering activities. Both national and international corporations want to get better promotion. So, they start different kinds of corporate volunteering activities. Amway, Bayer, IBM are just to name some of them.

International volunteering. Since 2001, international organizations have played an increasing role in China. Nowadays, more and more Chinese volunteers offer to participate in international volunteer programs. International volunteers mainly work in the area of language teaching and providing technical expertise in development and humanitarian programs. Since 2005, the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) has provided its help with emergency relief goods and medicine to the victims of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2006, and the 2007 Pakistan earthquake. It also provides development aid to Africa. With the purpose of promoting Chinese language and culture abroad, the Chinese non-profit public institution, the Confucius Institute, was established in 2004. By the end of 2010, more than three hundred Confucius Institutes had been established in nearly hundred countries around the world.

Besides, Chinese volunteering is also represented by community voluntary services, support education (students usually help to teach in schools), environmental projects (planting trees, purifying water), large-scale social events, protection of rare animals (rescuing the Tibetan antelope Chiru from extinction), and international volunteering (Chinese volunteers go to Laos, Thailand) (Beijing 28).

As far as volunteerism in America has been developed for so much more time, the types of volunteerism are unchangeable for decades now. These are the following: religious organizations, health-related organizations, educational groups, human service organizations and youth development organizations. Less frequently mentioned organizations were public or societal groups, private and community foundations, and environmental welfare organizations.

Religious organizations rank the highest position in the volunteering list for the next reason. Americans have confidence in the effectiveness of local religious organizations to address social problems. These organizations are believed to deal effectively with problems of hunger, homelessness, elder care, and racial and ethnic tensions. Affiliation with a formal religious organization is one of the strongest predictors of charitable behavior. Results show that the majority of Americans belong to some type of religious organization (Toppe 84).

The other aspect of volunteering in America is an informal volunteering. Some people volunteer in their everyday life not necessarily being members of some formal organizations. Informal volunteers are ready for such an unpaid work as helping a neighbor, shopping for an elderly person, and babysitting for a friend. Near 77 percent of Americans have an experience of informal volunteering (Toppe 40). They can be involved in some useful activities or simply donate money to the ones who need it.

A common practice for volunteers both from China and the U.S. is using the Internet for searching for the volunteering opportunities. In such a way, they can obtain information about charitable organizations, as well as make contributions.

In the U.S., international volunteering is developed, as well. In 2007, almost 3.7 million volunteers testified participation in at least some long-distance volunteering (Toppe 45). The ten most popular endpoints for long-distance volunteering outside volunteer’s own state include Texas, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Nevertheless, Americans want to volunteer abroad, too. They go to India, South Africa, Thailand, and Haiti – those countries they can help most.

Despite so much civic engagement in both countries, China and the United States still have some problems that prevent them from the further development. In China, where volunteering is undeveloped comparing to the U.S., volunteer organizations may face problems in four major areas: promoting volunteer service development, legal development of registration system, lack of resources – financial intellectual and institutional support, and volunteer management standards and quality. Without proper promotion, legalization, funding and trained volunteers, many organizations cannot make bigger a contribution to society. In the matter of volunteerism, China still has much to learn from the United States about how to stimulate volunteerism.

As far as volunteering in the U.S. has been existed for much longer, local problems differ from the ones China experiences. According to Linda Graff (2-5), they are the following:

1) Disappearance of long-term volunteers. More and more people choose episodic volunteering. Volunteers do not see volunteering as a life-long commitment anymore.

2) Long-term volunteers are harder to find these days. Many of the previous volunteers are occupied with the work now and cannot pay their time to the volunteering. Even when they were dedicated to volunteering earlier, they cannot afford it having families and other duties.

3) Aging population and aging volunteer workforce. Older volunteers believe that volunteering had already been a part of their life, so they do not want to return to the past. Some organizations are failing just because they are unable to recruit new members. Meanwhile, younger generation does not want to participate because of higher demands that organizations do not meet.

4) Tension between volunteers and paid staff. Tension is often caused by misunderstandings between the two groups. They may sometimes be not aware of the division of their responsibilities. As long as paid staff or volunteers feel underestimated they will not feel satisfied.

To conclude this research, volunteerism in China and the U.S. has a profound impact on society. People notice the importance of volunteering as time passes. It is most noticeable in time when some natural catastrophes occur. Then, people are reminded to help each other and to provide society’s development. Volunteers do so much good for other people annually it is hard to overestimate. They support the vulnerable, including helping the young, the disabled, the aged and the poor, as well as the environment. Many active volunteers support education and protection of rare animals. Volunteering helps the cooperation between government and society. It brings together closer cooperation and strengthens the trust between government, citizens and volunteer organizations. Thus, it helps to evolve civilization in every country around the world. 

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