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Volunteer at a Senior Center

US student Jared is performing clarinet for the seniors. The beautiful classic music is giving a spiritual journey to the seniors.
US student Whitney is holding hands with a grandmother. Close interaction is quickly built between them. Whitney’s enthusiastic smile is warming the grandmother’s heart in this late autumn.

Brent Smith from USA performing yoga with his host family for seniors at Beijing YiXing Senior Center. Brent is Managing Director of Developing Bank of Singapore; both he and his son joined Lotus summer program in 2007

Adrian LeCesne singing American songs for seniors with great emotion. Adrian is studying at Yale University. He joined Lotus 12 weeks Fall Program in 2006 and Homestay Only in summer 2007.
Students giving shoulder massage to seniors. Many of them never done this before, but the seniors are really enjoy it! A close relationship between seniors and volunteers was quickly built. Jeffrey from USA singing a song in Chinese written by himself for the seniors. He also accompanied himself with a musical instrument called Banzuo Qin.
Jeffrey feeding a disabled senior birthday cake. Jeffrey taught 3 months in Jiangxi province, China before coming Beiing. In JiangXi province, he visited senior centers several times. He got good experience of taking care of seniors. He knew how to relate to them and how to make them happy.
After performance, Lotus students visiting each senior's room, bring them smiling faces, and warm companionship besides nice gifts.
Alex Hadorn from Switzerland doing shoulder massage for a senior at Beijing Baiwangshan senior center. Alex is a Project Manager; he joined Lotus 2 weeks Summer Program in 2007.Alex talking to the senior with his newly learned Chinese. US students giving gifts to a senior, grandfather taking the gift with many thanks. Each gift was nicely wrapped by Lotus staff.
A grandmother dressed in her best cloth to meet the guests. Hands in hands, 3 of them sat together like a family.
Volunteers playing balloon game with seniors. This simple game can help seniors to exercise their muscles. Seniors got much happiness from the interaction with volunteers.

Lotus organized a birthday celebration for seniors and students. US student Wesley and a grandfather blowing the candles on the birthday cake, while volunteers around them singing birthday song for them.

Daniel Shintag, a university student in Belgium is reading Tang poetry on mother love for the seniors. Both the elder and young people are impressed by Daniel’s devotion and his perfect Chinese.

Like a coin, modern human society has two faces. On one hand, there's the bright and cheery optimism of the rich and fortunate. Happy, prosperous families fill the streets with light and good humour; luxurious consumer goods are aplenty, and there's enough living space for everyone. Even life's more conventional basic needs are easily fulfilled nowadays: a shower, a bathroom, a fully-equipped kitchen, a TV set, a computer. That's city life for the “normal” middle class, and China is no different to any other country in the world in that aspect. Then there's a side to human society that one does

not perceive in the bustling city streets: the darker side of the coin, if you will. It's the form of human society one does not read about in a normal newspaper article, the zone whose dwellers lack almost everything a regular city resident would take for granted. On the trip to the Yixing seniors' home on the outskirts of Beijing, we – a group of Chinese volunteers and foreign students, including the undersigned – got a chance to have a glance, however fleeting, at that unpleasant side of human condition.

As for the volunteers themselves, I have nothing but praise. Setting everything aside for a few hours in order to commit oneself to help the more unfortunate is a very admirable course of action. That day, each and every volunteer did his or her best to liven up the rather dreary main hall of the seniors' home. Everyone had something to give, and so, each show and skit was unique to the one who performed it: there were a “snake girl” gig, song, dance, various musical performances, and even a Tang poems recitation by the undersigned. Later on, the volunteers organised a collective birthday party for all the elderly people who had celebrated their birthday that month. Afterwards, the volunteers moved on to visit the seniors in their respective rooms of residence, distributing small gifts and tokens to the pleasantly surprised geriatrics. Overall, it was quite a cheery early afternoon for everyone, and I'm pretty sure the elderly enjoyed the visit a lot.

Nevertheless, the excursion left me with a slightly bitter taste. While the elderly certainly seemed happy to see us youngsters, I can't even conceive of how life must be like for the seniors after the enthusiastic visitors have all left the home. Located in a place so far-removed from the city's vivid and crowded centre, the home and its facilities definitely had a shabby and desolate quality to them. The conditions in the seniors' rooms are far from ideal, and living space seemed to be in short order. And while the professional staff seemed nice enough, I was thinking to myself how lonely the seniors (or at least those who were still in their right mind) must be feeling when visiting hours are over. This is true for every seniors' home on earth, but in a country such as China, where families would traditionally encompass several generations living under the same roof, being lonely and without family can be an especially traumatic experience. Moreover, as far as I can understand, residents of seniors' homes are usually people who have either outlived their close family or have been abandoned by their relatives. Thoughts such as these are quite disturbing, and I would hope a change of treatment policy to be in order, if only to give the seniors the impression they are still part of a living, breathing, moving human society, and not just left-overs ready for the trash bin.

At any rate, a big kudos to the Lotus Homestay foundation for organising this excursion, and to all the participating volunteers: while the seniors' actual living conditions may not have changed a lot due to our visit, brightening someone's day, even for a single minute, can certainly give a huge spiritual boost to all involved. Good luck with the next excursions – and I hope there'll be plenty more of those in the near future!

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