Over Four Generations: Volunteers' Spirit Rooted in Family in Beijing's Xicheng District

Author:Ye Shan April 21, 2020
"Xicheng Dama," a group of volunteers who wear red vests, red caps and red armbands, and who help maintain social security and provide services that make residents' lives more convenient and comfortable in Beijing's Xicheng District, take a group photo. 


"Xicheng Dama" refers to a group of volunteers who wear red vests, red caps and red armbands, and who help maintain social security and provide services that make residents' lives more convenient and comfortable in Beijing's Xicheng District. Most of the members of "Xicheng Dama" are from ordinary families. The family of Wang Huili, who lives on Zhanlanlu Sub-district, in Xicheng District, has — over four generations — worked as "Xicheng Dama" volunteers.

Do 'Small Things' Well

The word "dama," in Chinese, literally translates to "aunt." Are all of the "Xicheng Dama" volunteers aunts? Wang Huili has answered this question many times. She explains, patiently, "When we talk about 'Xicheng Dama,' we refer to it as a symbol, and that symbol means a group of volunteers who provide services to residential communities in Xicheng District. In fact, 'Xicheng Dama' volunteers include both women and men. The majority of the members are retired women, like me. But we also have volunteers at a much younger age. 'Xicheng Dama' means a group of volunteers who are willing to provide various services to improve residents' lives in Xicheng District."

"Xicheng Dama" volunteers try their best to do seemingly "small things" well. They pass on the volunteers' spirit of "do as much as you can and do your best," Wang Huili adds. For four generations, her family has volunteered with the group. Her grandfather, Wang Zhichao, was the first-generation "Xicheng Dama" volunteer of her family.

Over Four Generations: Volunteers' Spirit Rooted in Family in Beijing's Xicheng District
A cartoon about "Xicheng Dama" 


In the 1970s, Wang Zhichao worked as the director of the residents' committee of Shuguang Community (today's Baiwanzhuang East Community). At that time, Wang Huili was a student. Based on her memories, she says her grandfather was always busy.

"It was quite common that residents of our neighborhood visited our home in the evening. Sometimes, residents in the community had relatives, who had come from other places to visit them. They needed my grandfather to help them complete residence certificates, so their relatives could live in this community in Beijing. There were also residents who had relatives coming to Beijing to see a doctor. The residents asked my grandfather for help when they needed to deal with such 'small things.' My grandfather was always ready to help them. He also helped build a workshop, and he organized women in the community to process cloth bags for filling flour, so the women could earn income," Wang Huili recalls.

Wang Huili's mother, Liu Guifen, is the second-generation "Xicheng Dama" volunteer of her family. During the 1990s, Liu began working at the residents' committee of the community, in which she and her daughter's family currently live. Liu used to be responsible for protecting the community's environment, and for helping to maintain security. Wang Huili says she has learned from her mother, and from her grandfather, the importance of concentrating on one's work, and on working diligently and selflessly as a volunteer.

Over Four Generations: Volunteers' Spirit Rooted in Family in Beijing's Xicheng District
"Xicheng Damas" attend an activity during a forum on volunteer service.  


Making Community Harmonious, Heartwarming

In accordance with the development of residential communities, "Xicheng Dama" volunteers have shouldered greater responsibilities in helping residents in Xicheng District live more harmonious and heartwarming lives within their communities. Besides maintaining social security, the volunteers have paid greater attention to senior citizens' lives. They have organized various activities to enrich residents' lives after their retirement.

Wang Huili, in her sixties, is the third-generation "Xicheng Dama" volunteer of her family. Since 2002, she has worked at the residents' committee of Wenxing Street Community, under Zhanlanlu Sub-district. Now, she is deputy secretary-general of the senior citizens' association of Zhanlanlu Sub-district.

Over the years, Wang Huili has worked carefully and diligently, and she has learned about each household in the community. She has read many times the archives that record information about each household registered in the community. When residents turn to her for help, Wang Huili can quickly find solutions to their problems and/or difficulties. She says "Xicheng Dama" volunteers shoulder many responsibilities, including helping maintain security, fire control, caring for the elderly and taking part in environmental-protection activities.

Wang Huili places notices at the entrances of residential buildings to remind residents to double check their doors, windows, gas, water and electricity switches before they leave their homes. When there are newcomers to the community, Wang Huili visits them, and she gives them contact numbers of the community's volunteers, so the newcomers know who to contact if they need help. Wang Huili often checks the public lighting equipment in the community to ensure equipment is working well.

What's more, Wang Huili tries her best to enrich senior citizens' lives. She arranges for elderly residents to participate in colorful cultural activities, such as paper-cutting, calligraphy, painting and craft-making events. She also organizes volunteers to look after elderly residents, who live apart from their children.

Over Four Generations: Volunteers' Spirit Rooted in Family in Beijing's Xicheng District
A cartoon about "Xicheng Dama" 


"We have a team of volunteers under our association. The team members make delicious foods, which they bring to the elderly residents' homes. We visit the elderly residents during holidays, and we chat with them to make them happy. If the elderly residents fall ill, we take them to hospitals, so they can receive timely treatment," Wang Huili says.

During Spring Festival this year, when people across China were fighting the novel coronavirus epidemic, the senior citizens' association of Zhanlanlu Sub-district collected, online, paintings and calligraphies completed by retired residents in the community. Wang Huili posted, on her WeChat Moments some of the paintings that depicted how volunteers were working in the community to safeguard the health of local residents.

"I want to try my best to do each of the ordinary daily things well. As a member of 'Xicheng Dama' volunteers, I hope to accompany elderly residents in our community, and to make them feel warm," she says. Her warm-heartedness impresses senior citizens in the community, who treat Wang Huili as a member of their families.

Wang Huili enjoys her busy, but happy, life. Her deeds have influenced her daughter, Lou Shanshan, who became a social worker, also at Zhanlanlu Sub-district, in 2018. Lou is the fourth-generation "Xicheng Dama" volunteer of her family. She is responsible for senior citizens' affairs of Baiwanzhuang West Community, in Zhanlanlu Sub-district.

As she grew up in the community, Lou is quite familiar with the neighborhood. During her job interview, Lou was asked if she knew what a social worker needed to do, and if she would mind working extra hours if required. Lou answered, without hesitation, "Sure, I know. Actually, I have known the situation since I was young, because my mother has been working at this post."

Four generations of Wang Huili's family understand each other well, and they do their best to support each other. The family believes volunteer services make the community, in which they live, more harmonious and heartwarming. "Xicheng Dama" volunteers' spirit, which emphasizes dedication and selflessness, is deeply rooted in their hearts.

"Volunteer services represent an important symbol of our society's progress. Members of my family work diligently to show our love for life, and for our nation. We will keep following our family's good traditions, to help build a warm 'big family' of our community," Wang Huili concludes.


Photos Supplied by Wang Huili 

(Women of China English Monthly March 2020 issue)


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