TAIYUAN, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- In one urban community in northern China, a voluntary service team nicknamed "Shared Children" is working hard to support elderly empty-nesters, gaining in popularity among local residents since it was launched last October.
The 108 volunteers have already made a big difference within the Chaoyang Community, in the Jiancaoping District of Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province. They have paired off with 71 lonely senior citizens to learn about their daily needs and give a helping hand where needed, based on the principle of lasting relationships.
One volunteer named Zhao Yanfei is now the "daughter" of Zhang Meizhen, a local 81-year-old resident. Zhao pays close attention to Zhang's daily life. "I always come to the community's pavilion automatically to see if Zhang's here, as the pavilion is a popular place for the elderly to take a break, and Zhang goes there most mornings and afternoons at fixed hours," said Zhao.
"If I don't see her there one day, I will worry about her safety and health, and visit her home to see whether she feels sick or needs any help," Zhao explained.
The Chaoyang Community is typical of the aging communities found in Chinese cities. One third of the 6,077 residents from 2,271 households in the community are aged over 60, and many senior citizens have children working in other places. According to Guo Yinping, deputy secretary of the community's Party branch, 71 residents live alone all year round.
In recent years, the community has come up with many ideas aimed at caring for the elderly empty-nesters. At first, they launched a campaign called "Knocking on the Door," which involved paying frequent visits to the relevant households. Then, they tried giving out "contact cards," hoping that the seniors would contact the community cadres if they needed help. However, the community did not have sufficient staff to support so many elderly people in this way.
Finally, the idea "shared children" emerged, based around the idea of volunteers pairing off with individual elderly people.
"The 'Shared Children' voluntary service allows compassionate people to participate in public welfare activities for the senior empty-nesters in their spare time," said Guo, adding that not only did the local residents join in with great enthusiasm, but many staff from nearby supermarkets, banks and other working units also joined in.
By March, the number of the volunteers in the team had stabilized at 108. Their work has also been further refined and clarified, including purchasing goods, providing spiritual comfort, dealing with health issues and other duties.
The volunteers are not all youngsters, the term "shared children" being an expression of affection rather than a reference to age. In 2021, Fan Fawen, a retired train driver, signed up to support the volunteer team in its work. He often helps to repair household appliances in elderly people's homes and buys them fruit and vegetables, as well as carrying heavy stuff like rice sacks upstairs.
"They also give me home-made pickles and pastries. I can feel their warmth, which in turn encourages me to help them," Fan said.
Liu Chunyan, 41, is also among the volunteers. "Many elderly citizens now live alone and feel lonely, so we should accompany them and chat with them more often. Sometimes what they really need is not a helper, but somebody to talk to," Liu said.
Chen Desheng, an 88-year-old resident in the community, is among the empty-nesters who have benefitted from the system. "The volunteers are familiar with the situation of every household. When some elderly residents suffer from water leaks, the volunteers help with coordination and get the problems solved promptly. When we are bored, it's nice to have them to chat with," said Chen.
Hao Guoying, secretary of the community's Party branch, said that the "Shared Children" service has brought the elderly empty-nesters a sense of kinship, while the volunteers get some exercise, and it further promotes an atmosphere of respecting and caring for the elderly.
"More and more people are now starting to learn about the team. Some college students also want to join in the campaign during weekends and holidays. We believe that more and more people will join us in the future," said Hao.