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Giving hope to remote villagers

Published on Friday, 01 Apr 2011
A volunteer from Lingnan University mingles with local schoolchildren in Gezhangla village.
Student volunteers from the Yunnan Nationalities University with a couple of youngsters from the village.

The best corporate social responsibility initiatives promote collaboration and direct participation, creating tangible benefits and new perspectives for everyone involved.

So, when Deloitte heard from Lingnan University in 2007 about a scheme to "adopt" a remote mountain village in Yunnan province for three years, they had no hesitation in signing up. It was a chance to make a lasting impression there by improving education, health care and general amenities, while giving staff volunteers new experiences, and co-operating with partners at Yunnan Nationalities University and the Hong Kong Christian Council.

"We thought it was a good project where our people could actively participate, and which wasn't just a one-off donation," says Clement Hung, deputy regional managing partner for Deloitte southern China region. "We [make] at least three visits a year. For us, it has been about `learning to serve and serving to learn'."

The first step was to build a dormitory in the village for children from the surrounding district. Without that, some youngsters had to walk up to three hours a day to get to primary school and risked missing out on an education altogether. Other initiatives then took shape, after conducting surveys among the 700-odd villagers to ascertain what they needed, and what mattered to them.

A priority was to teach basic health and hygiene, the importance of washing hands, brushing teeth, and being able to check temperatures and blood pressure. For this, volunteers gave initial instructions and a local health "ambassador" was appointed to carry the message further.

Subsequent projects included building a bridge and road, upgrading the school, and improving the water supply to every household.

"For each project, we made it clear that we would help, but the villagers also had to contribute money or labour or in some other way," Hung says.

"At first, they saw us as strangers, but they became [friendlier] with every visit and particularly appreciate that their kids are getting a better education."

Deloitte has set up scholarships so youngsters can go on to secondary school in the nearest small town.

Those benefiting must make a commitment to coach primary students back home during their holidays and, in principle, may work as full-time village teachers for a period after graduation.

For each visit, about 15 to 20 Deloitte staff and a similar number from Lingnan University take part, visiting families and checking progress.

Dr Carol Ma, assistant director of Lingnan University's office of service-learning, says the initiative has cultivated a caring and responsible culture among participants.

"They continue to serve and learn even after coming back," she says, adding that students have honed leadership skills and learnt more about mainland villages.

Social accounting

Deloitte's initial financial commitment was about HK$1 million

To create a sustainable local economy, volunteers have explained why switching from tobacco to alternative cash crops makes long-term sense

Deloitte is adopting a second village in Yunnan, looking to make a similar impact while preserving the indigenous culture

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