Every year, beijingkids uses the holiday issue to draw attention to volunteering and charity-related causes. However, charitable work is a year-round endeavor for Cindy Jensen, Nathalie Azzopardi, and Elena Perez, the parents spotlighted in this month’s feature. Their reasons for donating their time are varied – supporting a cause close to their hearts, setting an example for their children, exploring different options while on a career break – but they are united by their desire to do meaningful work in a non-profit context. We caught up with each of them to discuss their motivations, challenges, and successes.
Elena Perez, marketing and CSR consultant at Bethel China
Elena Perez relocated to Beijing from Prague with her family in
2013. Originally from Spain, she is currently on sabbatical from her role as a marketing and communications manager for IBM. Perez’s sons Manuel (age 4) and Daniel (6), both attend Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijng).
Currently, Perez is a marketing and corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultant at Bethel China, an organization that fosters, educates, and provides medical care for children who are blind or visually-impaired.
Tell us a bit about what you do at Bethel.
CSR is about working with companies and other institutions to collaborate
[with Bethel]. Sometimes it’s employee engagement, education, or fundraising activities.
How did you get involved with Bethel?
When I came to Beijing I took a one-year sabbatical to support the family and be closer to my kids. When I was ready to get back into action, I wanted to explore charity work and I found Bethel.
What made you choose Bethel over other organizations?
I really fell in love with their projects. I liked the fact that they were focused on a vulnerable group: orphans who are blind or visually-impaired. I liked their transparency, and that they wanted people with skills.
It’s a small organization, so it’s possible to make an impact. I like the approach they have. It’s not just about being compassionate or feeding or educating them. They think of them as kids who have a right to dream and are equal to anybody else. They’re very much loved.
Do you have a history of volunteering or charity work?
I didn’t, but it was always something I wanted to do; to do something meaningful. I liked the idea that I could continue to use my skills. I’m also learning, so it’s a win-win for everybody.
What have you been learning about?
It’s very different to do marketing and communications in a corporate environment than in a NGO space. It’s a continuous learning experience. There are a lot of processes in a corporate environment. At Bethel, you do many different things in one day. The objective is different; it’s not a profit-based business, it’s a love-based business.
What surprised you about working with Bethel?
I didn’t know what to expect. When I first visited the foster care home [in Doudian], the moment I got there I realized it was a happy place full of color, love, laughs, and happy kids. Bethel was really home for them. I learned you can teach [these kids]how to be independent, and also how to love themselves and that each of them is beautiful.
What was the most challenging aspect?
The scale. You’re changing the lives of some, but you would like to change the lives of many. Bethel has grown rapidly, going from fostering three kids to 60 and doing a lot of awareness sessions. You see how important it is and how it changes lives. You want to make it bigger, but there is a lack of resources and funding. You have to balance these.
What do you gain from volunteering with Bethel?
I continue to learn professionally and personally. And I have fun. I’ve met a lot of amazing people and I love spending time with the kids. I’ve been really lucky to meet the great people who work there.
How do you talk about volunteering with your kids?
I told them that Mommy was starting to work again, but that now she works with kids. It’s been very good for them; they’ve learned there are other kids with a different reality, that love, have dreams, and play like they do. They have visited the Bethel foster care several times.
What was that like?
In the beginning, I think Daniel especially felt a bit overwhelmed; he didn’t know how to interact with the kids. After a while, he was less shy and starting to play with some of the kids. He was holding hands with them and helping them. They were on the trampoline and playing football.
For Manuel, it’s less obvious; he’s only 4 years old. He just thought he was with other kids; he didn’t realize that they couldn’t see. He was sitting with them, having snacks together and sharing fruit. It was like any other playdate.
For the Bethel kids, it’s the same. Sometimes kids see things in a much more natural way than adults do because they have no preconceptions.
What advice do you have for readers interested in volunteering?
Assess what you want to do and the availability that you have. Find an organization whose work you love; there has to be a strong affinity so that your work is meaningful both for you and for them.
I researched on the Internet and asking some friends about organizations. I was lucky because in beijingkids there was an interview with a French volunteer at Bethel and I loved the things he said.
Has working with Bethel influenced your future career?
Most likely I will go back to IBM, but [volunteering for Bethel]has changed me. I want to continue to work with charities, whether I’m working full-time for a corporation or not. This is a way of life and something I want my kids to continue having exposure to.
Full disclosure: The author volunteers part-time at Bethel.
To learn more about Bethel, visit www.bethelchina.org. For general information, get in touch at 5869 2169 or email@example.com. For volunteering enquiries, contact Development Manager Anna Calsina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: courtesy of Elena Perez
This article originally appeared on page 53 of the beijingkids December 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email email@example.com