Volunteering opportunities in Beijing
Many people find they have free time on their hands and opportunities to try fresh experiences after arriving in a new city. You may have quit your job and be taking a break from work. You will probably be lacking the social circle you had back home. That helps explain why a lot of expats get into volunteering – it provides an activity to focus on and a way of getting out and meeting new people, all while serving a community or organization.
There are plenty of opportunities for volunteering in Beijing. Read on for tips on how to help out with worthy charities, secure internships at local and international companies, throw yourself into facilitating a sports club or society, or be one of the heroes behind the scenes at the city’s many exciting events.
China’s charity sector is maturing fast as it becomes better regulated, and there are both small local charities and bigger international NGOs hungry for volunteers.
A short distance from Beijing, Sun Village is a foster home for children whose parents are in prison. It welcomes people to come in for a day or more regularly to help, or even to move to Sun Village and become a long-term volunteer. Duties may include teaching, playing with the children, cooking, or working on one of the farms.
Roundabout is a social enterprise headed by volunteers that is well-established among the expat community in Beijing. It gathers donations of unwanted goods and either directly passes them to communities in need or sells them in Roundabout retail stores in order to raise funds. Volunteers get training and can give as much time as they like to tackle a range of tasks. Roundabout can also provide information on volunteering with other charities.
Habitat for Humanity is an international non-profit organization dedicated to building affordable housing. Homes are built using volunteer labor in countries including China. As the organization’s website says, “Anyone who can hold a hammer or a bucket or a paint brush is welcome to the work of Habitat for Humanity.” Businesses, churches, and schools send teams to Habitat construction sites, while some teams are open to anyone who wants to join. There are also opportunities for non-building volunteers to participate in leadership roles or to intern at Habitat offices (Also see Interning, below).
Parent teacher associations
Every school’s parent teacher association (PTA) plays a vital role in campus life, from fostering community spirit to supporting student learning to organizing fundraising.
At the International School of Beijing (ISB), membership of the PTA is automatically conferred to all ISB parents and all faculty members. The PTA is involved in the new family orientation process and runs many activities throughout the year, including the annual Spring Fair, movie nights, and guest speaker programs. Active members find it a great way to make friends and socialize, and know they are benefitting a community in which they have a vested interest.
PTAs generally welcome all comers but they may also be looking for people with specific skills. Whether you have a background in marketing or accounting, your abilities are sure to come in handy.
If you’re a sporty person and want to give back while socializing, look out for sports clubs in need of volunteers. Sports Beijing is a well-established group providing recreational and competitive sporting options for Beijing youth with a primary focus on international school students. It requires volunteer coaches and organizers for programs covering a wide range of sports from baseball to rugby to dance.
Bike club Serk runs outings to ride in the mountains outside Beijing and further afield, as well as occasional races. Members willing to lend a hand, from marshalling at events to loading bikes into vans to pouring coffees before rides, are repaid with good will and often more material benefits.
Students and people looking for a change of career path can get a professional boost through unpaid internships, and it’s possible to find companies in Beijing offering such work experience. ISB recently ran an internship program that allowed High Schoolers to sample life inside some of China’s leading workplaces.
A quick Google or Baidu search will turn up adverts for internships and specialist agencies connecting interns and enterprises. We suggest you tread carefully before signing up to work for a company for free or trusting an agency, certainly if they want you to hand over any money for the privilege. Do your research and favor well-known names with good reputations.
If applying for work experience independently, you will need to be bold in reaching out to people through phone calls and emails and ultimately sending in your resume and/or personal statement. ISB staff responsible for the school’s internship program advised students to keep their personal statement short, address it to an individual they’ve already established contact with, and to be clear about why they want the internship and what strengths they can bring.
International home-building charity Habitat for Humanity offers internships at Habitat offices (see Charities, above).
Missing home? Want to promote your national culture abroad? Beijing has a lot of expat societies dedicated to particular nationalities. They hold events for both camaraderie among one’s own countrymen and as outreach activities to the local community. They’re run by volunteers and open to newcomers getting involved.
The Beijing Scottish Society is known for balls, traditional Scottish “ceilidh” dances, and whisky tastings. Where else can you lend your organizational abilities to an event with a soundtrack of bagpipes played by Chinese men wearing tartan skirts?
The annual British Charity Ball is managed by a group of volunteers who work together for up to nine months prior to the big night. It has raised millions of yuan for good causes.
The “Korean Community in Beijing” group, officially sponsored by the Korean Embassy, caters to the biggest expat population in China. They welcome volunteers to help run their events. Koreans seeking further voluntary opportunities could do worse than post a message on the forums of “Beijing Kids and Moms”, the largest blog for the Korean community in Beijing.
For more than 20 years, the Australian and New Zealand Association of Beijing (ANZA) provided a support network for Aussies, Kiwis and other expats, including through an annual dinner on the Great Wall. Sadly, ANZA did not have enough manpower to run any events in 2017-2018. The organization lies dormant until it has more volunteers willing to join its executive and general committee. What a fantastic chance for newcomers from the antipodes to help revive a Beijing institution!
Taking place around March each year, the Bookworm Literary Festival gathers authors from around the world for lively discussions and talks during one of the stand-outs of the expat calendar. It relies on the support of a dedicated team of volunteers to make sure things stay on track and everyone is reading from the same page. In addition to rubbing elbows with some of the world’s brightest literary figures, volunteers get free tickets.
The International Newcomers’ Network (INN) is a resource for newcomers of all foreign nationalities to obtain information about living in Beijing. The volunteers who run it are mainly old China hands valued for the wealth of local expat knowledge they can pass on, but less seasoned Beijingers can also get involved. INN is a social community dedicated to building relationships and sharing information through meetings, talks, and charitable events.
Choose groups to clone to: