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A community of helping hands and warm hearts
By Qu Zhi

People with big heart participate in charity in many ways - through donating money, providing free services or setting up NGOs.

In the Pudong New Area, such flourishing charity organizations have made the commercialized area a very cozy, friendly community.

The Dandelion Children's Library offers more than 5,000 children's books and other reading, including some in English and some that are hard to find.

The library on E'shan Road, which soft-opened on April 20, will hold an official opening ceremony on June 1.

It's one of a number of community venues, including a charity boutique for second-hand clothing, accessories and homewares, and a free photo studio for people aged 50 and over.

At the library, reading is free and borrowing requires a deposit of 1,000 yuan (US$162). Readers can borrow two English books and two Chinese books at one time.

Every day after school, children from the Pudong New Area neighborhood head to the library to read, do their homework and have fun.

The library was built by the Pass on the Love Charity Foundation, which is supported by the Pudong government. The rent is reduced by half for the library.

"When it comes to NGOs and charities, I think Pudong is a leader in the city," says library president Du Keming.

Founded in 2006 by Du and Xuan Jianping, the Pass on the Love Foundation is an NGO registered in the US state of Michigan. It builds high-quality libraries in poor villages in China. These libraries help improve education and provide a social setting for children.

The Dandelion library is the foundation's first library in Shanghai.

"This is even harder than building a village library," says Du, who graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in early childhood education.

"People tend to make donations to help children in rural areas but, while I have built many libraries in the countryside, city people also long for high-quality children's libraries," she tells Shanghai Daily.

According to Du, the library is not only comfortable and welcoming, but environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

Building materials are also "green," including both thermal and acoustic insulation; double-pane glass reduces the noise from outside.

Children will have to put on shoe covers before entering the library to keep the floor clean. Instead of plastic, they use lint as the fabric to be soundless.

Three-year-old Xie Zihao is a big fan. As soon as he enters, he washes his hands in a basin, changes his shoes for slippers and gets his favorite book, "Salt in His Shoes." His mother, Madam Chu, tells Shanghai Daily that they spend an hour or two on every visit.

"The library encourages my son to learn and think, and sometimes the books even encourage me to read," she says.

The staff are trained at East China Normal University in children's library service and help young people find what they need and suggest what might interest them.

"We have stringent criteria for selecting and purchasing books and we don't accept any donation without first checking the quality," Du says.

Except for award-wining reading matter, every book is chosen in consultation with established children's writers, publishers and translators. Even best-selling books on Amazon won't make it to library if the translations into Chinese are considered substandard.

"Children from kindergarten age to high school can find their books here," Du says.

After June 1, the library will offer activities at least once a week, including regular reading clubs in both Chinese and English, a live theater and some others social experience."

Authors, publishers and illustrators will have informal talks with children and encourage children to make their own books.

"These kind of library activities are common in America, and children will learn and get social experience in a fun way," says Du.

Just next door is Ci Ai Community Wardrobe, a popular charity boutique selling garments, accessories, general housewares and home furnishings donated by individuals and brands.

The Community Wardrobe is a subsidiary of the Pudong New Area Charity Public Service Center; proceeds will go to the Pudong branch of the Shanghai Charity Foundation.

In one corner of the shop, bric-a-brac is displaced in cubes. These products are sold on consignment; more than 20 percent of the proceeds is donated to charity.

Charity photo studio

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, "we don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

This is what "Friends 58" founder and volunteers believe, so they opened this self-service photography studio that provides professional services to people over age 50. Qualified senior citizens can enjoy a free first-time shoot.

They can also take their own pictures with a remote-control shutter.

The studio receives a rent subsidy from the Pudong government, as does the library and clothing store.

It is equipped with professional equipment. Customers can take their own pictures; costumes, props and a remote-control shutter are provided.

"Young people are welcome, too, during the weekends and weekday evenings. They will be charged an average fee," says a woman volunteer. "This is actually good because, while having fun, they also plunk down some money for the public good and help cover the cost."

The studio tries to help older people experiencing cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer's, says Gu, the founder, who prefers her full name undisclosed.

"People who are over 50 years old usually don't like to be labeled 'old,' but since they are retired they start to socialize less. They need help to adjust and maintain a good attitude," Gu adds.

"Activities in the studio, such as dressing up and taking photos, help keep people active and communicating, and this helps them maintain healthy brain function," she says.

In the future the studio plans to teach seniors to use various electronic products and gadgets. It will also show films about Alzheimer's disease.

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