Mainlanders keen to volunteer abroad, says medical charity chief

Volunteer spirit leaves strong impression on head of renowned medical aid group

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 3:04am

The interest in humanitarian work is huge on the mainland and the number of Chinese volunteers seeking to work abroad is bound to rise, says the president of a big international aid group.

Dr Unni Karunakara, head of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), in Hong Kong last weekend to attend the organisation's annual meeting, recently returned from a short visit to the mainland where he gave two lectures on the group's work.

"The response I received in Beijing took me by surprise," Karunakara said, and convinced him that many Chinese medical workers - and those from other fields - were keen to be involved in humanitarian aid abroad and were well informed about aid issues outside the mainland.

Karunakara addressed capacity audiences at Peking University's Health Science Centre and Beijing Union Medical College - China's oldest school of Western medicine .

"We had to move to bigger lecture rooms on both occasions, and these soon filled up as well," Karunakara said. "I delivered both lectures in English with no need for a translator. All questions were in English and they were very insightful. It was very impressive and encouraging."

He said those attending the lectures were mostly medical students but included some from other disciplines. "They were all keen to work abroad and wanted to make a difference," he said.

The group, renowned for providing emergency medical aid in some of the toughest conditions on earth, has been working on the mainland since 1998 and has offices in Beijing and Guangzhou. Karunakara said both offices received frequent requests for talks by MSF staff from people from a wide range of backgrounds, not just medics.

"People in China are just getting to know MSF and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw," Karunakara said. "But I'm not saying for a second that everyone there with a humanitarian impulse should get on a plane and go to Africa. There's many ways of doing humanitarian work."