Editor's note: The outbreak of “COVID-19” has broken the peaceful life of Chinese people, who have been involved in this war without gunpowder. Among the people fighting “COVID-19”, there is a group of youths, from University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS), who have launched a special assistance operation named“UCAS果壳仁儿”initiated spontaneously in the emergent period. On March 20, 2020, With the logistics problem of the last batch of materials' - two boxes of hand sanitizer solved, the first-stage work of the "UCAS Voluntary Aid Team for Hubei" was completed on March 20 at 18:00.
Concerns from Schoolfellows aboard
In the UCAS Cross-Culture Group (UCCG), where international students often gather, student Li studying in the School of Chemistry and student Ouyang studying in the Institute of Automation are well-known as enthusiastic figures. In this association, they organize various traditional Chinese culture communication activities, and overseas students are called on to share the unique geo-culture of their own country. They also climb the Great Wall, visit the Forbidden City, and hold parties together. Through these activities, overseas students here get close to Chinese students and are gradually familiar with Chinese culture.
In Li's mind, most of these overseas students who graduated from UCAS has developed friendly feelings towards Chinese people. At the beginning, oversees students wanted to give a hand to Chinses people. And that’s why this assistance operation was initiated.
The Tortuous path of Aid
At the end of January and early February, China was in a period of severe epidemic situation. Some overseas students closely related to UCCG asked about the channels to support China. Li and Ouyang realized the domestic shortage of supplies which means it was not easy to collect medical supplies, so they put the donation link of the Wuhan Red Cross Society in the UCCG WeChat group at that time, and everyone in the group was encouraged to donate money to the Red Cross Society. But unfortunately, it didn’t work very well. Later, some major hospitals in the epidemic area released information online for help.
At the same time, many universities, especially the alumni associations of universities in Hubei, as well as overseas Chinese have taken action to deliver medical supplies to the epidemic areas. Since UCAS didn't open any channel for donation officially this time. Li and Ouyang started to organize by themselves to work together with international students in UCCG. In addition, many domestic students also wanted to help. Soon after, a volunteer team----" UCAS Voluntary Aid Team for Hubei " was established.
UCAS Voluntary Aid Team for Hubei
There are 14 volunteers in UCAS Voluntary First-Stage Aid Team for Hubei, and Li and Ouyang acts as the initiators. The publishing platform of the assistance operation named“UCAS果壳仁儿”is actually a renamed personal WeChat official account from one of the volunteers. Student Gao from the Automation Institute created a webpage which represents transparency to publicize the source of medical supplies, logistics, orders, finance, hospitals, legal issues and other information of this activity. Volunteer responsible for accounting used her personal WeChat, Alipay and bank account as a fundraising account to collect donations.
Volunteers have different initial intentions to join the UCAS Voluntary Aid Team for Hubei, but most of them have similar intentions to participate in the activity of fighting against the disease. Unlike the two founders, volunteer Jiang, who is a student reporter in UCAS, joined them by accident. She meant to just interview those two Founders, but actually she stayed there and worked as an accountant in the team because of her accounting background and was responsible for the financial revenue and expenditure as well as the publicity of the detail account during the fundraising operation.
The reason for another volunteer Liao to join the team is even simpler, as she said: “I retweeted their WeChat post. And then my mom asked me ‘why not join them and work together?’ But when I told one of my friends about my mom’s words as a joke, he said it was actually awesome. Then I asked about the volunteer’s (Li) WeChat account from my friend.” And then she performed the WeChat posting work. As expected, she has done it very well.
At first, with the help of UCCG, the team contact overseas students to find channels for supporting medical material. Fortunately, they get their supports. After comparing prices, the team finally decided to buy medical supplies from Kazakhstan and Myanmar. At the same time, members of the team contacted embassies and overseas students to prompt this action and soon they also found a way to deliver the medical supplies back to China. But finally, they were not able to continue it because of limited funds and deteriorating outlook of epidemic disease in whole world.
Favorable Turn & Pity
At the beginning, the team members decided to purchase medical supplies from oversees, but because of students’ limited publicity strength leading small donations and the roaring price of overseas resources, these volunteers were unable to get the medical supplies they expected. Flight cancellation and supplies management had made it difficult to import medical disease. Then the team turned its attention to domestic material purchasing channels and provided the external information of material purchasing to Chinese embassy and other public service organizations.
However, domestic material purchasing was also difficult. Ouyang and his team members felt that it was a big pity that they failed to get the officially support of UCAS and the direct guidance from teachers in UCAS Foundation.
Even more unfortunate was that difficulties streamed in one by one. Overseas medical supplies that had been negotiated were failed to purchase because of insufficient donated funds. Domestic medical masks acquisition was strained by government because of Medical demand in epidemic area and the average price of other material resources in domestic markets rose several times compared to usual times. Workers in some factories were not allowed to deliver goods because they were afraid of contact transmission from couriers who might be in close contact with people with confirmed cases. Some logistics companies were not really willing to use their urgent transportation channels to deliver the supplies because of complicated official procedures. Medical instrument business enterprise permit was required if they want to transact with first-level business agents who sale medical protecting clothing.
When these troubles occurred, any imperfect link could ruin the entire activity. To its credit the team composed of those volunteers who has already put “Do it anyway” as life motto didn’t say no. Every team member tried their best to search for the rock-bottom-price medical supplies, and contact with logistic companies who has urgent transportation channels to deliver existing medical goods and materials. One the other hand, they disseminated donation channel information to public and collect effective information to promote their work.
Finally, all those difficulties were resolved and batches of medical supplies were sent to Hubei. All volunteers cheered and shouted just like they have published a paper with high IF (a measure of the frequency with which the "average article" in a journal has been cited in a given period of time).
The Power of the Team
From the beginning, Participants in UCAS Voluntary Aid Team for Hubei were carefully divided into six groups---Publicity Group, Donation Group, Logistic Group, Organization Group, Purchasing Group, and Accounting Group. In addition, other group bore the responsibility to supervise the Accounting Group. All volunteers worked together to support assistant activities for Hubei.
Li, who worked in Publicity Group, had spent a whole week to contact more than 100 student leaders in different institutes, from UCAS to CAS. He disseminated information about fundraising and called for them to work together. When in the face of doubts, he just repeated and explained tirelessly. Finally, it was nice to see that more and more students started to donate to them. And the fundraising amount was about ￥10,000 a day.
But such expansion of fundraising also brought a lot of pressures to the team. Every revenue or expenditure, bulletin charts of detailed account, and effective contact work between groups made the team members exhausted. Especially student Jiang, who was in charge of finances, was under great psychological pressure. They wanted to recruit a new student to work together with Jiang once the fundraising amount rise up to 100,000. But ridiculously, the fundraising amount stopped at 99,000. So Jiang continued to stick with the job. She said optimistically, “ This is really a great accounting professional internship which gives me an experience of running such a big financial project on my own.”
Domestic medical supply purchasing was also a hard part. Organization Group first contacted with hospitals needed help, and then Purchasing Group was in charge of searching for medical materials and goods, and finally, Logistic group had to contact with logistic companies to deliver goods. If anything happens in transit, all of them are supposed to perform their respective duties to be sure the medical supplies arrive in the final destination.
Volunteer Duan, who was in charge of contacting hospitals and confirmed the required medical supplies they needed, has delivered lots of medical supplies to The Central Hospital of Wuhan, Wuhan Third Hospital and Wuhan Fourth Hospital in time. Because of the epidemic situation, Duan has experienced the feeling of completely working at home for the first time. He said, “We’ve never done this kind of work, and be in lack of experience. But fortunately, we are motivated and have the spirit of exploration.”
Stockouts stroke the team for many times during the process of searching for the source of medical supplies. Volunteer Chen and Zhang knew this very well. Even though sometimes they found one ore two in stock, their quoted prices were always too high to accept or the quality of the medical supplies were inferior. But the team didn’t give up. They’ve already decided to follow through, so they must find the right medical supplies.
After finding the source of supplies, volunteers in Purchasing Group needed to review the qualifications of the medical supplies one by one to avoid inferior products, and then they could rest assured to buy them. Once Accounting Group paid the order, Logistics Group contacted logistics companies to deliver the resources. Finally, the medical supplies acceptance documents were sent to the WeChat group of the team, which marked the end of the work at this stage.
During the whole February, in the cheerless streets of Wuhan, few people on their figure. But behind the scenes, countless ordinary people took their efforts to pull through. Members in UCAS Voluntary Aid Team for Hubei felt honored to be one of them.
Delivering 800 Isolation Gowns to Yangxin County
Meiling, one of the volunteers of aid team initiated by the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS), has been responsible for delivering 687 isolation gowns to Hubei province together with her group members. Added by 100 gowns donated by fan club of Kim Jong-dae and another 13 bought by an individual, the total donated 800 gowns were planed to send to Yangxin County People’s Hospital of Huangshi city. The supply was successfully delivered to Yangxin County on March 3 through twists and turns .
In the process of purchasing in the isolation gowns, the supplier required that the money should be transferred from a corporate account of those with the business license for medical devices. To meet this requirement, the volunteers have asked help for charities, Red Cross and hospitals. They even sought support from some companies where their friends were working to buy the supply on their behalf, but none of them were ready to help. Some of them did not have business licenses while others said they could not transfer through corporate accounts. When the volunteers considered giving up the order, the materials manager of Central Hospital of Wuhan, who had already received our donated materials, introduced us a pharmaceutical company that was willing to use their corporate account to help us. After getting this message, Meiling finally breathed a sigh of relief. Ping, our facilitator from Shenzhen Chinese and Western Medicine Company, was very patient and supportive during the process so that everything went smoothly.
Then our work was progressing step by step. After signing the contract, making the payment plan and urging the supplier to deliver the goods, our volunteers began to select the logistic channels that meet the requirements: Those who have green passage and are willing to send goods to Huangshi city. However, the whole process did not go very well. As our order could not get an official seal and met the requirement of EMS green passage, the transportation fee couldn’t be exempted. Besides, the actual weight of the gowns was far higher than the number given by the supplier so that if we chose to pay the delivering fees, we would run out of our donations. However, we finally persuaded EMS to fetch the gowns from the supplier and then JD.COM committed us to deliver the donations for free.
The 20 boxes of isolation gowns labeled as donated goods were successively delivered to Wuhan with the help of EMS and JD.COM. Hearing this news, our volunteers were so excited and filled with tears. But what we did not expect was that the isolation gowns were sent to Central Hospital of Wuhan rather than Yangxin County People's Hospital. However, we resolved this problem once again and in the end, the donations were transported to the right destination.
Liao, a volunteer in the information group, spoke highly of those volunteers responsible for communication, cargo and logistics: "There was a time when people on Weibo kept saying that all the logistic channels were not reaching Wuhan but our volunteers have solved the problem. It’s incredible. I remember Keren who is a Phd candidate in the logistics group, often sent out a tracking number with additional information but never mentioned what difficulties they have faced. I guess they may have magic."
Voice from Us
At the end of the first phase, the information group called on all volunteers to express their feelings and thoughts.
Two Impressive Days——Keep Calm and A Low Profile
Liao could recall two impressive days during the process.
On February 19, the first batch of protective masks were sent to Central Hospital of Wuhan. In that evening, their WeChat group members were not as active as usual. There was no communication on the work and no ecstasy from delivery of the donations. Everyone chose to keep quiet and calm. This feeling resembles that we have after taking the college entrance examination. We stayed quiet and calm rather than being overjoyed when things came to an end.
On February 20, a hospital rejected our supplies that afternoon: “The supplies have been controlled by the government and all the departments have received them. Although it is not enough, our stock can be used as well. As for daily stuff, each of us get one set of Pehchaolin. So we are not in need of the donations for the time being.” This is the happiest news Liao had received since she was concerned about the epidemic so that she was very excited at that time. Although the hospital called next day asking for the donated supplies, we could more or less expect the situation was getting better.
Gao, a volunteer in the information group, was in charge of all the web pages of our project but he kept a low profile all the time.
Similarly, Dingwei who dealt with the work in different groups at the same time also didn’t want to attract much attention. She wrote to us: “(1) We should always pay attention to details and stay objective and be true to others; (2) We help and then be helped; (3) It is easy to say but hard to act, so we should be more considerate and grateful for what others have done; (4) Keeping the accounts transparent is the simplest but the most difficult thing. One of our senior students has completed all the projects by herself with correctness and attention to details.”
Worthy of Trust
For Jiang who was in charge of raising the donations, reading the messages left by the donors to these volunteers was most touching. They expressed their gratitude and best wishes to us. One even said that he/she got the money from his/her parents by playing Mahjong with them.This donor also told us to take care of ourselves.
In order to keep secret of donors’ personal information, only Jiang have read these messages so far. In this activity, we raised money with personal accounts but these people were willing to trust us, which gave volunteers more sense of responsibility. Jiang wrote to us:“We will never forget the support from every donor and strive to make expenses transparent. The donations will be used in the right place."
Sponsor Ouyang had even more impressive moments and was quite clear about his responsibilities. He was meticulous in his work and strictly observed the rules in decision-making in order to avoid doubts and mistrust. He wrote down his points: “Grasp every opportunity and just take the first step when you know it’s the right thing; Any activity relies on efficient team and procedures. Organizers should always stick to high standards and details; We must gather all the resources we need.”
When operating this project, Ouyang noticed that each volunteer was ready to contribute and share. For him, this project left him valuable experiences of organizing welfare activities. He became the major participator rather than a bystander and realized that getting the best result is more difficult than you could expect.
As one of the major team leaders in this activity, Ouyang prefers the vision of overall situation. He has been perplexed by the negative image of Red Cross in our society. Many charity groups chose to send medical supplies directly to the hospitals rather than seeking help from the Red Cross and UCAS aid team is one of them.
However, Ouyang found that this method was not efficient in real practice. For example, hospitals in remote cities need to come to Wuhan to pick up the goods themselves. Besides, due to asymmetric information, charity groups sometimes might donate more than the actual needs, which is unreasonable for supplies distribution. Moreover, the nominal market demand may be greater than the actual demand and thus boosts the prices.
Every time we saw charity groups purchasing supplies at a price several times higher than usual, we felt that things shouldn’t be like this. If the Red Cross or relevant departments have established positive image and insist on fairness and transparency of expenses, each of us will trust them and donate money directly to them. It’s the most efficient way for government organizations to operate the procurement and distribution.
During this period, Ouyang and other volunteers have witnessed the news and rumors about the epidemic. Such phenomenon, we believe, was closely related with the lacking of authority of relevant departments and organizations. We hope they will learn lessons from this even and improve their image.
UCCG: A Start and Our Future
Another sponsor Li said:“Our starting point was to contribute our efforts. In the process, we found that many UCASers were very active and everyone has a great sense of social responsibility. The result is satisfactory this time but I also hope to get support from our university in the future.”
Li would like to express thanks to the international students.He said he learned a lot when communicating with them and the counsels in foreign embassies. UCCG serves as the starting point for this fund-raising activity and it is also a sound platform for understanding the culture and politics of various parts of the world. Most intentional students here come to China through “the Belt and Road Initiative” scholarships, and their cultural backgrounds are very different. Li believes that the communication platform provided by UCCG can greatly broaden people's horizons and enable them to understand the ethnic issues, geographical disputes and cultural differences of all ethnic groups in the world in more detail. He added:“ I hope students can participate in activities organized by UCCG and appreciate the charm of various cultures.”
As of March 15, 2020, the charity project initiated by UCAS aid team has received donations totaling 99,033.02 yuan from 881 donors, and successfully ordered 2,000 protective masks, 2,800 pairs of medical shoe covers, 687 isolation gowns, 10,000 medical garbage bags and 130 ozone germicidal lamps, which have been sent to designated hospitals in Hubei province. Most of the supplies have been delivered to medical staff in need. According to the preliminary plan, the remaining 1,828.02 yuan has been donated to the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation to commemorate Dr. Li Wenliang who lost his life in the epidemic.
Although this activity was not officially organized by UCAS but all the UCAS donors have acted under the guidance of the theme of the university“Extending knowledge in breadth and depth; Making every effort to contribute to the country and the world”.Although the donations might be insignificant, UCASers still used their actions to support Hubei and China.
Finally, we’d like to extend our gratitude for donors who support and trust us with their love for the epidemic-hit area, social groups and express logistics companies who assisted us in the whole process. Because of the help from them, we could be able to complete this charity project successively.
Author: Cheng Jiang, School of Humanities, UCAS
Shiping Qiao， Department of Foreign Languages,UCAS
Hongyan Li，School of Translation Studies, Xi'an International Studies University
Photos : UCAS Voluntary Aid Team for Hubei