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China

How To Save The Chinese Red Cross From Itself

Essay: China’s state-run Red Cross has recently been a regular source of controversy. Now, some accuse it of forcing Chinese students to join - and pay. But assuming it fulfills its mission, the Chinese Red Cross is an organization well worth preserving.

Members of the Guangxi Red Cross
Members of the Guangxi Red Cross
Wei Yingjie

BEIJING - In one of those increasingly common incidents in our Internet-driven culture, a self-promoting young woman known as "Guo Meimei" created a scandal earlier this year by drawing attention to the very commercial nature of the Red Cross Society of China. Donations, not surprisingly, have plummeted.

And now the scandal has taken off again. Earlier this week, China's National Red Cross Youth Unit held a meeting in Tianjin to discuss how to promote the Red Cross in schools across the country. Prior to this, the press had been reporting that numerous students in primary and secondary schools have been forced by their schools to join the organization and pay for their membership.

So what do we make of all of this?

On one hand, that in promoting its activities to youngsters, the Red Cross is carrying on a long international tradition and therefore shouldn't be questioned. As early as 1880, during the British-Dutch Boer War, there were already Canadian students who volunteered to work for the Red Cross. During World War I, masses of young people helped treat wounded soldiers and war victims. In 1922, a resolution of the International Red Cross advised its member countries' affiliates to promote the membership of students of all levels.

From this stance, Chinese youngsters entering the body makes up a very important part of China's Red Cross Society, and conforms to the spirit of the organization.

Crisis of confidence

And yet, though China's Red Cross must certainly develop its activities among young people, such recruitment comes as the organization faces a true crisis of confidence. Take the membership fee as an example: as long as it's really the youngsters taking the initiative to join the society and making contributions voluntarily, there shouldn't be any problem. But too often, the fees are mandatory, and many of China's local schools require their students to join the organization.

Moreover, there is no transparency in where the contribution actually winds up. It is only legitimate that the public wants to make sure that the money is not misused or misappropriated.

To put it plainly, under the current cloud of doubt about China's Red Cross, promotion of a so-called "charitable campus' is going to be misread and criticized. The fact that the routine work of the charitable body arouses so much controversy is evidence of a deeper problem.

So the key of the "Guo Meimei" incident lies in how to reestablish people's trust in the Red Cross. There are only two possible ways out.

First is to decouple the organization from the state authorities, and let it return to its original NGO charity status, to operate in accordance with the regulations of philanthropic foundations.

The second is to quickly set up a sound mechanism for tracking contributions so that the public can check on the destination of donations. Ultimately, if the Red Cross of China wants to emerge from the current cloud and function normally again, if the China Red Cross Youth Unit is not to be turned into a scapegoat, there is only one solution: the organization must regain the trust of the Chinese public.

Read the original article in Chinese

photo - Red Cross

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Society

Colombia Celebrates Its Beloved Drug For The Ages, Coffee

This essential morning drink for millions worldwide was once considered an addictive menace, earning itself a ban on pain of death in the Islamic world.

Colombia's star product: coffee beans.

Julián López de Mesa Samudio

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — October 1st is International Coffee Day. Recently it seems as if every day of the calendar year commemorates something — but for Colombia, coffee is indeed special.

For almost a century now we have largely tied our national destiny, culture and image abroad to this drink. Indeed it isn't just Colombia's star product, it became through the course of the 20th century the world's favorite beverage — and the most commonly used drug to boost work output.

Precisely for its stimulating qualities — and for being a mild drug — coffee was not always celebrated, and its history is peppered with the kinds of bans, restrictions and penalties imposed on the 'evil' drugs of today.

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