Across China: Gray-haired volunteers in Shanghai discover new meaning of life

SHANGHAI, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- Sun Hongyin got up at around 5 a.m. on Friday and bought 70 pieces of pork chops and 3 kg of shrimps to prepare "longevity noodles" for the elderly in her community to celebrate the traditional Double Ninth Festival.

The Double Ninth Festival, also known as Chongyang Festival in China, falls on Sunday this year. It is an occasion to care for and send blessings to the elderly throughout China.

But in Shanghai, instead of waiting for others to care for them, a group of senior people like Sun has chosen to devote their time and energy to those who are older than themselves and find new meanings in life through mutual help.

Sun, 64, is the initiator of "Baoyile," a volunteer group consisting of 17 silver-haired local residents. The youngest in the team is 58 years old and the oldest is 82 years old, and their average age is about 60 years.

Sun recalled that the idea of this team took shape more than 10 years ago when she retired and found herself "without much to do."

"I wanted to do something for the elderly living alone in the community," Sun said. With decades of working experience in the catering industry, she decided to cook dozens of zongzi and give the glutinous rice dumplings to the seniors in the community during the Dragon Boat Festival.

Gradually, Sun went from making dozens of zongzi to thousands, and her volunteer work also extended to providing on-call care for all the senior residents in the community. Some nearby neighbors who have retired recently also joined her.

Wu Yuanmei, 66, got up at 4 a.m. on Friday. After arranging her home affairs, she took the bus to join Baoyile's Double Ninth Festival activities. As Sun's old neighbor, even though she has moved more than 10 km away, Wu's enthusiasm for volunteering is still unabated.

"Seeing these old folks is like seeing my own mother and also my future self. To care for them is to care for ourselves," Wu said.

During holidays, members of the Baoyile team will each make one or two dishes and snacks and deliver them to the elderly living alone in the neighborhood, as well as the sanitation workers and the couriers.

The COVID-19 outbreak this year made it more difficult for the senior living alone to go out for grocery shopping, and the volunteer team members purchased and delivered vegetables, meat and masks to the elderly and even provided door-to-door haircuts for them.

Sun has planned some special activities for this year's Double Ninth Festival. The team and dozens of senior people in the community celebrated the 100th birthday of Sun Shuqin in advance.

Wearing a birthday hat, Sun Shuqin kept repeating how happy she is. Mu Youfen, the daughter, said that her mom was always excited to participate in these activities, and urged her family to take her to the event early in the morning.

"If it weren't for such a team, we elderly people might rarely have the opportunity to get together. Although it takes some time and effort to prepare a meal each time, we don't find it hard but feel happy. It has been 10 years since I retired, and I now feel younger and happier," said Cao Yueping, a 61-year-old volunteer.

Sun Hongyin said that the elderly can not only enjoy themselves but also help each other to find their own value through these voluntary activities.

"I didn't expect to learn some new skills after retirement," said 58-year-old Li Qindi. She was a doctor before retiring. After joining the volunteer team, she learned how to make zongzi for the first time and shared basic medical knowledge with team members.

"We are still the 'little-old' people, and we need to care about those who are older than us," said Sun Hongyin.

During her decade-long volunteer work, Sun found that some elderly people living alone need special care not only for life but also emotionally.

"When I call the senior residents, many of them are often reluctant to hang up. Compared to visits and gifts, the elderly need more companionship and interaction," said Sun.

Shanghai is one of the cities with a higher aging population in China. As of 2019, there were over 5 million residents aged 60 and above in Shanghai, accounting for 35.2 percent of the total population. In some downtown areas, the proportion is even close to 40 percent.

Sun said that she hopes their volunteer work can inspire the society, regardless of age, to give more care to the elderly. She also hopes that the mode of the elderly helping the elderly will go on because they will get more happiness while delivering care.

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