Action Changes Our Future – the Story of a Grassroots NGO

 Introduction: China’s NGO sector is being transformed by China’s younger generation whose interest and participation in this sector has grown rapidly over the last few years….. 

Employees of Shoulder Action
China Development Brief, no.47 (Fall 2010)
 
Translated by Shamo Thar
Reviewed by Kate Xiao
 
  
…..They often bring with them higher levels of education and professionalism than the older generation of NGO workers. This article provides a glimpse into the lives of two young people who helped found an educational NGO in the coastal city of Xiamen, and the motivations and ideals that led them to work in this sector.
 
 
 

Shoulder Action ( [1]担当者行动) is an independent NGO with an educational focus. Shoulder Action seeks to create more reading opportunities for rural children by providing them with books and reading activities outside the classroom.
 
July 5, 2010 was an important day for Shoulder Action because on that day, all ­four of our employees were present and gathered together. All of them were in the prime of their lives, and for some, this was their first full-time job.
 
That very morning, the four of us—Wenbing(文宾), Meiqin(美琴), Lixiang(丽香), and Akun(阿焜)—sat inside a small office located at 64 Democracy Plaza (民主大厦) on Siming Road in Xiamen. We held a brief meeting to discuss the assignment of job tasks and upcoming duties. Even if such routine meetings lacked excitement, we were all very passionate about charity work.
 
The history of our office can be traced back to June of 2009. Fan Chuangui ( 范传贵) and Shi Yinan (施颖楠) were the first staff members of Shoulder Action to move into the office. They s­­­­­tarted working with just a telephone, one used desktop computer, and three workspaces using desks and chairs borrowed from the local YMCA(青年会). The director, Guan Wenbin (官文宾), was at the time occupied with the projects of Migrant Workers Home (工友之家) and he was not able to join Shoulder Action. Later on, Agui[2] and Yinan started working at a local news station. Meanwhile, Wenbin left the Workers Home to become the first full-time employee at Shoulder Action.
 
From then on, Shoulder Action had its first full-time employee, a permanent office space, and its first charitable program—“A Library in Every Classroom”. In time, Shoulder Action would make its appearance in the Chinese NGO scene as a formal organization.
 
Less than half a year had passed on November 7th, 2011, when Shoulder Action announced its inaugural group of board members. The board members provided Shoulder Action a foundation on which the organization could further expand and strengthen its reputation as a professional homegrown charity.
 
Shoulder Action has since taken a big step forward with the addition of several new staff. Shoulder Action now has staff specializing in project proposals, project implementation, and brand-building. In light of new challenges, there is a need for staff and supporters of Shoulder Action, to come together and work to realize the organization’s mission and vision.
 
As a public service organization, we are intimately aware that our power and value lies in how we serve others.. As grass-roots philanthropists, we try our hardest to serve both the program beneficiaries and the staff and volunteers of Shoulder Action. We believe that with our ideals and conviction, we can create a better tomorrow!
 
 
 
Keeping up with Changing Times, Acting Together (Written by Guan Wenbin)
 
Guan Wenbin, one of the founding members of Shoulder Action, is now the general manager of the organization. While doing his master’s program at Xiamen University, he launched the Nanqiang Rural Education Association (南强乡村学社). [3]
 
Why do graduates choose to take up full-time public service after their graduate study? This is a question I am often asked. Frankly speaking, I was afraid my answer would not reflect my true feelings, I was also afraid I would forget to describe what the situation was really like at the time. I was most afraid of receiving praise from others, even if it was sincere.
 
Human nature is inherently flawed. We may lose ourselves in the opinions of other people. That is why I decided to give careful thought to why I entered this profession, so that in the future I would not discover that I had forgotten this piece of history. 
 
       From the year of 2001 to 2005, I was studying at Quanzhou Normal University. I hoped to become an investigative reporter; so I went to study at Xiamen University for my masters in journalism. While at Xiamen University, I began attending social, charitable activities in the capacity of a professional news reporter. I began to research basic education in the most remote villages, and started a campaign to raise funds for the construction of rural libraries. Together, my classmates and I founded the Nanqiang Rural Education Association to promote the diffusion of knowledge and skills in the countryside .
 
    I believed that a good news reporter should have a strong sense of social responsibility and an acute understanding of social problems. A good news reporter should be able to confront the most pressing problems of our times. Deep in my heart, I had always remembered what a young teacher, Zhang Tongqing, one of the founders of Shoulder Action, had told me. — ‘The most urgent and pressing challenge we face in our times is Chinese society’s transition to a modern society, which we can further through improvements in public policy.
On the year of my graduation, I was not hired by the Southern News Group (南方报业集团), [a company I had long wanted to work for]. Later though, I passed the exam to work for other news companies, but I felt there was no place for the ideals I had about the journalism profession. In the midst of my job search, I met Professor Qiu Jiansheng , who had graduated from Jimei University (集美大学) in the early 1990s and had committed himself to NGO work, and for some time had been working to promote rural development and urban education.
 
Under the name of the Rural Development Center at People’s University, Professor Qiu was at the time setting up the Workers Home organization to provide free educational training and consulting services for young migrant laborers in suburban areas of Xiamen City. Professor Qiu invited Shoulder Action to participate in the development of Workers Home which was just getting started. On behalf of Shoulder Action, I moved to the offices of Workers Home, lived in Chengzhong Village where their projects were, organized the workers, and worked together with them. I remembered clearly my feeling when Professor Qiu proposed that I work with his organization. I was instantly touched, but I also informed Professor Qiu that I had lots of debt from my education, that I had elderly parents back in my hometown, and that I shouldered a heavy burden. Professor Qiu said if I would like to work at the Workers Home, he could pay me 3,000 RMB per month. At first, I didn’t know whether to believe it or not, but soon after,I decided to accept. Frankly speaking, if I did not have debts and familial duties, I would have agreed to do such worthwhile work even without pay. 
 
After my graduation, I did not have time to go home and visit my mother. I moved from the Xiamen University student dormitories to Chengzhong Village and started working at Workers Home. For one year, I lived in the village and nearly cut off all contact with my old friends and classmates. That year was challenging, but I realized that I am determined and someone who could commit to a goal wholeheartedly. This year, I learned how philanthropic projects operate and how to manage them. It also put to test my ability to work together with colleagues to accomplish common goals.
 
Later on, Professor Zhang Tongqing told me that Shoulder Action’s first program, “A Library for Every Classroom,” was in its final stages and they would soon be in need of a full-time employee. At that time, I was working part-time as the second general manager of Shoulder Action, and was contemplating whether I should join full-time. In the summer 2009, I became the first full-time staff member at Shoulder Action. Professor Zhang and I discussed that I would be paid 1,500 RMB as my monthly salary. At the time, there were only enough funds in Shoulder Action’s banking account to pay me for two months.
 
Perhaps heaven was moved by my courage and decided to come to my rescue. After a few months, I met several Xiamen University alumni who were successful entrepreneurs. They joined Shoulder Action’s board. In April 2010, we had our second board member meeting, and we selected Zuoming as the director of the board. During the meeting we reviewed our annual budget. Meiqin, Akun and Lixiang joined [Shoulder Action] when we obtained funding for their positions. Having said this much, however, it still seems that I have not yet answered this question directly: “Why do students who have master’s degrees choose to do full-time charitable work?” But for readers who paid careful attention, I think that the answer is clear:  
 First of all, it makes me feel very happy to be able to help other disadvantaged children be able to attend school and continue their studies. When I was young, I was shy and not confident, but I still had a good heart and was hard-working, just like the children that Shoulder Action helps today.
 
Secondly, I am proud to be involved in this type of visionary work in keeping with changing times for Chinese NGOs. The mission of Shoulder Action is to demonstrate a genuine devotion to philanthropic work. In the next 20 years, the development of Chinese NGOs will critical to the construction of civil society in China, and is the most important issue facing our country’s transition to a modern society. While journalists can use the power of media to shape the process indirectly, those working in the NGO profession can devote themselves fully to this historic moment of change. 
 
 
I Believe in the Power of Public Welfare (Written by Yang Meiqin)
 
Yang Meiqin is Shoulder Action’s program operations coordinator. She graduated from the Chinese Department of Quanzhou Normal University in 2010. She has been working for Shoulder Action since she was a freshman in college. After graduation, she decided to work for Shoulder Action full-time.
 
Many people asked me why I chose to do this work and why I decided to work full-time in the public welfare sector. Actually, the choice was not hard. I have always thought that it would be my good fortune to work in this profession.
 
When I was in junior high school, I read an article by Helen Keller where she tells how her teacher Anne Sullivan  patiently instructed and helped her. Even though she was deaf, mute and blind, Helen became an incredibly talented and successful woman. I do not remember clearly all the details of the stories in the article, but I felt that her teacher’s love and care pushed her to succeed. Would Helen have achieved such success if her teacher had just used teaching techniques for disabled children and her love and care had been absent? I’ve often felt that love is a powerful force, and that a person who uses love would be able to conquer all.
 
After entering college, I started thinking about life, and what kind of life could be meaningful. Although I do not have a clear answer yet, I am sure that thinking only about yourself and not others would be a life devoid of meaning.
 
That is why life should have a direction. We should not only live for ourselves but also for others. A life like this would make full use of one’s potential. I used to watch a TV program called “Cold and Warm Life” (“冷暖人生”) and I feel that the program is well titled. Cold and warm are types of feeling. In our society, not every one of us can feel that life is full of beauty, sunshine and fairness. Some of us are in a corner somewhere surrounded by the dark and cold, suffering social injustice.
 
I chose this work because I believe in the power of public welfare. I think that public welfare reflects the best of human nature. I believe that the deepest love can really move people. Because of love, we can serve others out of the kindness of our hearts. I believe that working on behalf of the public welfare can bring out kindness, justice and fairness. I feel that work and ideals are combined in this type of job, which is a good thing.
 
 
AFTERWORD (Written by Guo Ting, CDB Online Staff Writer)
 
One afternoon in August, Guanwen Bin found me through the internet and said he wanted to submit this article to China Development Brief. I accepted the article and put it together with the rest of the stuff I had to do. When I had a chance to look through it, I just fell in love with it. I forwarded it to our public email system and it was approved for publication. Now our readers can view it.
 
While editing this article, from beginning to end, I had a strong feeling of identification with it. The feeling became stronger and stronger. These young people in their twenties all had different motivations. Wenbin repeatedly stressed his original motives and circumstances. Lixiang became a part of Shoulder Action because she wanted to have a meaningful life. But they all had a dream and the dream eventually became a reality. Akun always had an unforgettable face and smile in his memory, Meiqin was instilled with love from her teenage years, all of which are the most precious of human emotions.
 
Young people usually have dreams, yet very few of them can realize them. What a happy thing it is to make a life-time commitment to doing the things that you want to do the most. Many other people who are in the public welfare sector might have already forgotten the ideals and dreams they had when they were young. But I believe, if you are reading this, then you still have not let go of the dreams you had.
 
 
 
 
 
 
行动改变未来—一家草根NGO的团队故事
 
中国发展简报2010秋季刊第47卷
 
 
2010年7月5日,对担当者行动来说是一个重要的日子。因为这一天,我们四名工作人员全部到位,作为风华正茂的年轻人,大多是在担当者行动开始人生中的第一份全职工作。
 
这一天的上午,文宾、美琴、丽香、阿焜,我们四人首先在厦门思明西路64号民主大厦的一间小小办公室开了一个简短的会议。我们讨论了具体的分工、工作制度以及近期的工作任务,会议并没有曾经盘旋于脑海中的那种激动人心的慷慨激昂,只是简短而务实,尽管我们每个人都怀揣着对人生价值和生命意义的美好想象,在大学毕业后选择了成为全职公益人。
 
这间办公室的历史可以上溯到2009年6月, 范传贵和施颖楠两位担当者首先搬进来,他们架上了电话和一台二手电脑,用从青年会借来的桌椅拼起了三张办公桌。彼时的总干事官文宾正忙于工友之家的项目,无法抽身前来。而后阿贵和颖楠开始去报社入职上班,文宾于是辞去了工友之家的工作,成为担当者行动的第一名全职工作人员。
 
从那时起,担当者行动有了第一位全职员工、固定办公场所,有了第一个专业化设计的公益产品——“班班有个图书角”助学计划,遂开始以正式的机构形态出现在中国NGO舞台上。
 
不足半年,2009年11月7日,担当者行动第一届理事会宣告成立,获得了稳定发展的制度根基,向一个扎根于中国本土的专业化公益服务机构迈进。
 
人员的壮大,意味着担当者行动又向前跨了一步,有了专门的项目建设专员、项目运营专员和品牌建设专员,当然也开始面对新的挑战,我们必须和所有的担当者与志愿者共同努力,以实现机构的目标和使命
 
我们深知,作为一家社会公益服务机构,我们的力量和价值在于我们所拥有的服务精神,这是我们的生命力所在。作为一名草根公益人,我们会努力做好两端的服务,服务好项目受益者,服务好所有担当者和志愿者!我们坚信秉承心中的理想和信念,我们能创造美好的明天!
 
 
让生命应和时代的脉搏, 一起跳动
 
/官文宾
 
 官文宾,担当者行动发起人之一,现任担当者行动执行总干事。厦大读研期间,创办了南强乡村学社。
 
为什么研究生毕业后选择全职做公益?这是一个我经常被问起的问题。老实说,我害怕自己的回答偏离了内心真实的想法,也害怕自己的描述遗漏了当初做出选择时的处境,更害怕一般人给我所谓“很伟大很崇高”之类的赞誉,尽管我也相信,很多人的赞扬都是真诚的。
 
但人性总有那么一些弱点,常常会在周围人的眼光和观点中迷失自己的本意。所以,我选择在夜深人静的时候,在厦大白城靠海的“担当者客栈”里来写这篇日记,认真地想想自己当初是如何选择这条道路的,免得将来,我也模糊了自己的这段历史,忘记了最初真实的心境。
 
2001~2005年,我尚在泉州师范学院读书,那时候的想法是毕业后成为一名新闻调查记者,因此本科毕业后考到厦门大学攻读新闻学硕士研究生。厦大期间,我开始学着以一名职业新闻记者的方式参加社会公益活动:在中国最偏远的山村做基础教育调研,发动捐建乡村图书馆,与同学一道创立南强乡村学社,致力于乡村的知识传播。
 
那时候,我认定,一名好记者,一定要有很强的社会责任感和很敏感的社会问题意识,要找到我们这个时代最急迫、最需要解决和面对的挑战。我内心一直记得,读本科时的一位年轻老师,张同庆,也是我们担当者行动的创始人,告诉过我的一个答案:我们这个时代最急迫、最需要解决和面对的挑战就是推动中国完成向现代社会 的转型,通过各种专业技术和制度设计的手段,推动公共治理的进步。
 
研究生毕业那年,我没有考进一直向往的南方报业集团,尽管后来考进了其他报社,但我觉得自己所谓的新闻理想已经无从安放了。就在徘徊的时候,我碰到了邱建生老师,他20世纪90年代初从集美大学毕业后一直从事NGO领域的工作,长期致力于乡村建设和城市平民教育。
 
彼时邱老师正以中国人民大学乡村建设中心的名义,在厦门的城中村安兜社创办为外来打工青年提供免费教育培训和咨询的国仁工友之家。邱老师提出,担当者行动可以参与创办还处于襁褓之中的国仁工友之家,我则代表担当者行动直接到工友之家工作,住进城中村,组织工友,和工友打成一片。我至今清清楚楚地记得当初的心情:邱老师一提议,我立刻心动了,然后惴惴地告诉邱老师,我读书期间欠了许多债务,家有老母,负担很重。邱老师告诉我,只要愿意去,他可以给我每个月3000元的工资。我从将信将疑到下定决心:“真的吗?那我要去!老实说,要是我没有债务和家庭负担,这样一份有意义的工作,不给我工资我也干!”
 
就这样,毕业之后,我都没来及回家看看妈妈,就从厦大的学生宿舍搬进了安兜城中村的民房里,开始了工友之家的工作。整整一年,我住在安兜那个小旮旯里,几乎断绝了和往日朋友及同学的联系。也正是这一年的挑战,让我认识到,其实我是那种可以不顾一切,为了一个目标潜下心来投入的人。这一年,我学会了公益项目运 作和项目管理,也锻炼了与工作伙伴共同完成目标的能力。
 
后来,张同庆老师告诉我:“班班有个图书角”的项目设计已经成型,需要一名专职工作人员。那时候,我刚刚兼职担当者行动第二任总干事,心里想,既然是总干事,那就出来做第一个专职吧。就这样,2009年的夏天,我成为担当者行动的第一名全职工作人员。我和张老师商定,月工资1500元,那时担当者行动运营账户上的余额只够给我发两个月工资。
 
也许是老天感动于我的勇气,他出手相助了。随后的几个月里,我通过陈坚师兄认识了厦门大学一批成功的企业家校友,他们相继成为担当者行动常务理事。2010年4月份,担当者行动第二次理事会召开,选举厦门大学的杰出校友左敏为首任理事长,并通过了年度运营预算。有了经费保证,美琴、阿焜、丽香也开始进入做全职工作。说了这么多,我好像还没有直接回答“为什么研究生毕业后选择全职做公益?”这个问题。但对细心的读者来说,我的答案已经很明确了:
 
首先,从自己的成长经历来看,能够帮助那些在贫困中艰难求学的孩子读好书、上好学,我觉得很幸福!因为当年的我,就和担当者行动今天帮助的很多孩子一样,胆小、自卑、怯弱,但心怀美好、努力上进。
 
其次,从事这样一份工作,我有一种应和着时代脉搏跳动的自豪感和使命感。因为,担当者行动的理念就是,用真诚、纯粹的心做专业的社会公益活动,而未来20年,中国NGO的成熟和发展将是公民社会建构最重要的一部分,也是我们国家向现代社会转型过程中最重要的议题之一。如果说,做记者还只是间接地以媒体力量推波助澜,那么做NGO,成为一名专业公益人,那就是全身心投入了这个划时代的历史进程。 
 
 
我相信公益的力量
 
/杨美琴
 
杨美琴,一般被叫做“小白杨”,担当者行动项目运营专员。2010年毕业于泉州师范学院中文系,大一的时候就参与了担当者行动的公益活动,四年来与担当者行动一路同行。毕业后,她选择成为担当者行动的一名全职工作人员。 很多人问我为什么选择担当者行动这份工作,为什么选择全职做公益?其实对我来说没有太多的内心的挣扎,我一直觉得能做这份工作,真的很幸运。
 
初中的时候,读过海伦·凯勒的一篇文章,讲述她的老师安妮·莎莉文如何耐心地启发她,让这个又聋又哑又盲的人一步步走向光明。文中的具体细节已经模糊,但是有一种情感始终很清晰,并且牢牢地印在了我的心里,那就是“爱”。我觉得假如安妮·莎莉文老师心中没有一种强烈的爱,只是有单纯的技巧指导残疾孩子,是不可能让这个又聋又哑又盲的女孩子突破自身的障碍,取得如此大的成功的。所以我一直觉得“爱”是一种强大的力量,心中有爱的人自能够所向披靡。
 
进入大学之后,开始关注人生,思考什么样的生命才是有意义的。虽然没有得出明确的答案,但是我可以肯定的是只为自己而活的生命是没有意义的,这样的一生是非常卑微的。
 
所以生命要有一个方向,不仅是为自己而活,而是要让自己的生命像火把一样,熊熊燃烧,直至尽头。这样的生命不仅让自己的潜能得到最大的发挥,火把燃烧也会释放光明和温暖。曾经看过一档节目,叫做“冷暖人生”,我觉得这个名字取得特别好。冷暖是一种感觉。生活在社会中,并不是每一个人都感觉到生活是阳光的、美好的、公平的,总有一些人忍受着社会的不公平待遇,他们蜷缩在社会的角落里,感受着阴暗和冰冷。
 
我选择公益,是因为相信公益的力量,我觉得公益中散发着暖暖的人性的光辉。我相信深深的爱,是可以真正地打动人。因为我们心中有爱,所以用心,用心地工作,用心地服务。我相信公益事业可以焕发人群中的善良、正义和公平,让人世间多一些温暖,少一些冰冷!所以能够找到这样一种职业,可以把工作和理想相结合,是一件幸福的事情。我觉得。 
 
 
编后记
 
8月 的某日午后,当官文宾在网上找到我,想把这组稿件投给中国发展简报网站时,我例行公事地应承下来,之后的粗略审读中,忽然就如黄丽香文中所言,心中“咯噔”一下,似乎看到了一种久违的感觉。我把文章转发到简报的公共邮箱,很快得到首肯,于是,这组文章就从网络走下来,呈现到读者面前。
 
编 辑此文的自始至终,那种久违的感觉再度浮现,越发强烈。这些二十多岁的年轻人有着不同的初衷,也有这样那样的性格弱点,始终害怕迷失本意的文宾反复强调当初的处境和际遇推动,丽香之所以成为担当者,最初只是出于内心的“不安分”、想要活得更精彩……但他们心中都有一块柔软的地方,理想的种子落入后就会生根 发芽成长为坚定的信念,阿焜始终不能忘怀的脸孔与笑容、美琴少年时心中留下的“爱”之烙印,都是人类最淳朴美好的本能情感。
 
青 葱岁月的人们大多心怀梦想,然而能在冰冷严酷的现实面前实践梦想的人们少之又少,能用一生最美好的韶光做最想做的事,何其幸福。更多的公益人,也许已在循环往复的生活和日渐沉重的担子中消磨了当年的志向,但我相信,能读到这里,你们一定和我一样,心中还残留着一些最初的信念和梦想。(郭婷)
 


[1] This is the English name they use on their website, www.dandang.org.
[2] Refers to FanChuanGui ( 范传贵)
[3] 南强乡村学社Nanqiang Rural Education Society
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