Giving your all

A new year, and new approaches to charity in China

Giving your all

Food for thought

How far would you go to publicise an issue that you care about?

Determined to highlight the miserable plight of 40-something women working in “10 kuai shops”, the cheapest kind of brothel, Ye Haiyan, a rights campaigner in southwest Guangxi province, went as far as offering her own body.

“I wanted to draw attention to poor sex workers and how unfairly the government treats them,” Ye, 37, a divorced mother of one, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a very good way to focus on the problem.”

It was.

Ye detailed her three-day action earlier this month on Tencent’s weibo, or microblog service (Sina, a bigger provider, censored the account, she says). Her report reached thousands of people, with hundreds leaving messages, many supportive.

Some were puzzled by her free-of-charge offer. Others noted that the men frequenting the brothels were the poorest of society, often migrant workers living far from their families.

Ye says she met four clients in three days.

“I only picked really poor men. One guy said 10 kuai was too expensive and began to pull one kuai notes out of his pocket. He got to five and stopped. I said, you can have it for free.”

Ye, whose organisation, China Grassroots Women’s Rights Centre, campaigns for prostitutes’ rights and safe sex, said she had been inspired by meeting a “10 kuai shop” prostitute who had been detained and fined Rmb3,000 by the police. Prostitution is illegal in China.

Ye was infuriated that police fined the woman despite her crushing poverty. “Sex workers operate in hidden places, and they solve the problem of migrant worker’s sexual needs,” Ye wrote in her microblog. “They also solve their own survival needs. Yet look how the government treats them.”

Her goal? “I really want the fines to stop,” she said in a conversation with WiC, pointing out that many of the women are older and often struggling to raise children alone. Many have fled abusive husbands, or their spouses are dead.

Ye’s is an extreme case, althoughwork in the wider charitable field can be difficult in China, with the government often suspicious of the motives of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Still, there are thousands of NGOs already working across the country, many set up as businesses to avoid onerous registration procedures.

Last year also saw a series of financial scandals at government-run NGOs, creating concerns that the public will become less willing to donate to charitable causes.

Three Beijing-based social entrepreneurs have come up with an alternative way to raise funds, creating a “Little Gold Book” of restaurant coupons that sells for just Rmb240 but has a value of Rmb2,000.

The aim is to partner with charities that are having trouble raising funds, said Andrew Pratley, who runs the business with his sister, Irena Desmond, and wife, Elaine Pratley.

The trio have chosen Huiling, a mental disability charity run by Guangzhou native Meng Weina, as their inaugural recipient. The charity receives 30% of sales, with all other income going towards running the project. The founders work on a voluntary basis.

Little Gold Book is on sale at many well-known restaurants in Beijing and Pratley hopes the mission will spread.

“As with many business start-ups, it has been a lot harder than we envisaged,” he wrote in an email.

“We probably visited 400 restaurants (by foot!) to get the 85 deals that are in the book… But business in China has been fun.”

The Pratleys are hoping that the book will become a popular present among charitably-minded Beijingers, including companies who see buying the book as good for their image – or who just want to do some good in general.

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