An unpaid corps of helpers contributes to expo success

Thousands of volunteers are at hand to guide visitors, do translation work and point people to services they may need.
Dong Jun / SHINE

Priyanka Shakya from Nepal (right) and Orlando Tanguy Mayugi from Burundi (middle) who are volunteers at the expo check certificates of visitors at an entrance to the exhibiton center.

More than 5,200 volunteers are the lubricant of the first China International Import Expo, which is being held in an exhibition center with floor area the size of 200 football fields.

At the security check gates, at traffic junctions inside the complex and in the exhibition halls, volunteers are on hand to give directions, provide service information and work as interpreters.

Shanghai Daily talked to a few volunteers to hear their stories.

Priyanka Shakya from Nepal is one of the four foreign volunteers working at expo. The quartet, all students from Donghua University, are assigned to the security check gates at the western entrance to the complex.

Shakya, a fourth-year student in textile engineering, speaks Chinese almost accent-free after four years of living in Shanghai.

Working from 7:30am to 4:30pm, she said she fields requests for directions from foreigners and Chinese alike. She also explains security rules to foreign visitors at the gates.

“Some people insist upon entering even if they don’t have registered documents, and I think this reflects how popular this expo is,” Shakya said.

She said she was very proud to visit her own country’s pavilion.

“It feels great to see my country and people from my country at such a big exhibition,” she said.

Shakya, whose father works in the textile industry, said she plans to do graduate studies. After that, she said she hopes to apply the textile knowledge she has gained to Nepalese exports of textile products to China.

Dong Jun / SHINE

Sharjeel Ahmed from Pakistan works at an entrance to the exhibition center for the Import Expo.

Sharjeel Ahmed from Pakistan, a second-year student in software engineering, said he felt a bit nervous before he started to work at expo but everything has gone well.

Ahmed has reached out to fellow countrymen at expo.

“They were surprised when they saw me wearing a volunteer’s uniform,” he said. “We added each other to our WeChat accounts immediately, and I offered to help them when they need anything.”

Ahmed said with a smile that he hopes more Pakistani rice can be exported to China because he thinks it tastes better than Chinese rice.

Ahmadou Thiaw from Senegal, who is studying for a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering, has been living in Shanghai for 10 years.

“When the Chinese volunteers come across a visitor from Senegal, they refer that person to me,” he said. “It’s nice to be at my post helping all visitors to the expo.”

Thiaw said he expects the links between China and his country -- and also Africa as a whole -- will expand in the future.

“China has invested a lot of money in infrastructure and industry in Africa, and my personal goal is to contribute to developing the manufacturing sector in my country to employ more people and export more goods,” he said.

Zheng Yukai

Li Liang (middle), a Chinese volunteer, works as an interpreter between exhibitors and buyers.

Li Liang, a third-year student from the East China University of Science and Technology, who is studying international economics and trade, works as an interpreter for exhibitors at the trade in services sector.

Her work started days before the expo started, and she said she found the runup period even more exhausting than her time at the event itself.

“I helped exhibitors get to the venue, set up the booths, and rent and buy necessary items,” she said. “Since no transportation vehicles are allowed inside the huge complex, I had to run around, day and after day. I was so tired that I barely had the strength to speak.”

To ensure her services at expo would be professional, Li did background research about the companies beforehand and talked to the exhibitors in the travel, consulting and information technology sectors on the exhibition.

“I’m so happy when my translation work helps foreign companies and their potential customers strike deals, and when company representatives tell me I am their hero,” she said.

Li said the expo experience has given her a deeper understanding of global commerce.

Ni Zhongtian, a third-year exhibition design student from Shanghai University of Engineering Science, works as a guide at desks near the north entrance to the complex.

He said visitors ask for directions and seek help with document and banking, among other requests.

His volunteer work meshes nicely with his university major.

“I have been able to witness the entire process of setting up booths and pavilions before the expo opened and have learned a lot about the application of new technologies in staging exhibitions,” he said.

In fact, a part of his coursework this semester is focused on the design planning that went into this expo.

Ni said the event has been running smoothly and he is proud of the small part he plays in its success. Even small glitches haven’t diminished enthusiasm.

“The digital indoor map embedded in the official app doesn’t work sometimes, but visitors, including foreigners, are keen to try it,” he said.

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