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Celebration of Service

Riding a Caravan of Safety

IBM volunteers in China help children get ready in case of emergencies

Stop, drop and roll. No, go, yell, and tell. Dial 1-1-2 (or 110 or 999 or 911…your country’s emergency phone number). Know your home address.

Many children learn the basics of what to do in an emergency from their parents. But who teaches them these important lessons when a parent is absent? In Wuhan, China, IBM volunteers worked with the Wuhan Woman and Children Activity Center (WHWCAC) to create a program to help unattended children understand what to do in dangerous or emergency situations.

“Considering that they are unattended children, most of the time, they stay at home alone with grandparents because their parents have left to work in other areas,” explains Wan Xing, an IBM IT specialist in Wuhan and the service leader for the project with WHWCAC, which is called Security Caravan—Juvenile Care. “It raises the ratio of suffering injuries when something bad happens in their daily life or natural disasters.”

In industrialized countries, unintentional injury—such as drowning and poisoning—is the leading cause of death among children ages one to fourteen, or about 700,000 children worldwide. In Beijing, a city twice as populous as Wuhan and nearly 800 miles away, a 2009 study by the Alliance for Safe Children determined that three children die every two days from injury. In Jiangxi province, directly southeast of Wuhan, the same study concluded that every day 21 children die from injuries, and 2,043 children are injured requiring treatment.

Safe Kids Worldwide, a not-for-profit based in the U.S., has shown through its efforts that awareness, education and training can have a positive effect on reducing accidents and injuries. “That's why we believe this will do some good for children, no matter how big or small,” says Wan Xing.

“Of course, we want the children to be happy and innocent, but we want them to also grow up without injuries and to know what to do in an emergency,” she says. “It is a balance, and we can help them to be safe and still have fun.”

Joining the caravan

Earlier in 2011, Wan Xing, wanted to do something that would bring together IBM employees at the company’s new location in Wuhan with people in the community. Mr. Hong Jie Zhang, a member of IBM’s corporate citizenship and corporate affairs team, put her in contact with Wuhan Woman and Children Activity Center.

“With IBM’s Centennial year of service this was a good chance to initiate volunteer activities in our new community,” says Wan Xing. “Together with WHWCAC we decided on the ‘caravan’—a team of volunteers would lead the children from one activity to another to learn the importance of self-security and how to be safe in situations like fire, earthquake, traffic, and gas leaks.”

The ambitious plan called for 100 IBM volunteers to coach and mentor more than 200 children in seven areas including traffic safety, fire drill, first aid, environmental protection, earthquake simulation, and electric shock. The WHWCAC had done training similar to this in the past, but not on so large a scale.

As president of the club that organizes activities for IBM employees in Wuhan, Wan Xing publicized the volunteer opportunity—the response back was enthusiastic. She says, “We recruited plenty of volunteers and then put them in the safety areas they were most interested in teaching.” In some cases volunteers needed to receive training in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation from WHWCAC experts in order to give proper instruction to the children.

“We decided that passing knowledge on to them by books is helpful, but first-hand experience provides a rich multi-sensory experience,” says Wan Xing. “You learn by doing it, and will be less afraid to face these kinds of situations if they happen.”

Safety in growing numbers

The Security Caravan—Juvenile Care project was a success with the children, and it was an achievement behind the scenes as the effort required volunteer management, customized route planning, and training guide creation—approaches that can now become part of WHWCAC’s operations.

With the help of Hong Jie Zhang, an IBM Catalyst Grant was awarded to the project to help them expand to outlying areas, and increase their reach to 1,000 children. “We have to guarantee the ratio of one volunteer for every four children to assure the quality of program,” says Wan Xing. “Identifying such a large of number of volunteers will be a challenge, but I think our IBM teams are ready to help.”

Wan Xing says that “From my personal standpoint, the project has broadened my sight of society—it makes me feel valued to play a role in helping. We are able to do a lot to make society better and care for others, giving us a connection with each other. That's my little feeling.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.