Olympic Volunteers Press toward the 'Gold'

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BEIJING, China - The opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympics kicks off August 8 in Beijing. And hundreds of thousands of young Chinese hope to be part of the event.

Hard Work and Dreams of Glory

Grueling training, stiff competition, and dreams of glory might be familiar to aspiring Olympic athletes. But this year, they also apply to another elite group: China's Olympic volunteers.

While millions of China's young people are looking forward to welcoming foreigners this August, just a select few will wear the white jackets and blue fanny-packs of the official volunteers.

"I feel very honored and think it's a pleasure to be a volunteer. I feel very proud to offer my contribution to the country," Olympic volunteer hopeful Xin Zhen said.

Only 100,000 of the more than 1.1 million applicants will be official volunteers. Almost all of them are under the age of 30.

For many, this is the chance of a lifetime. Even their official song is titled I Am A Superstar.

Another volunteer, Nie Hua, said "It's such an exciting event and it's such a big event. Maybe it's the biggest event I have in my life."

But volunteer work isn't just fun and excitement. It's hard work.

"The volunteers work very hard, and I was moved very deeply... the only thing they get is a certificate to prove their identity or a bus card. They don't earn salary, they don't get paid, but they devote themselves to volunteer work," volunteer coordinator Ren Wei said.

Birthing the Spirit of Servanthood

Wei says this program has helped spur many more volunteer activities throughout China.

One volunteer recalls, "I taught young children - very small children - English for half a summer…I enjoyed it."

One girl said, "Every one of us can be a volunteer if we have the heart of a volunteer."

Instead of depending on others, many young people say service to others is part of their responsibility and heritage.

"We should try to do our best to improve the conditions of other people. That's our responsibility," one young person said.

Another said, "I think we have the heritage from our ancestors and we have the good will to do things for others and not ask for payback, and I think that's the essence of community work."

With an optimistic outlook and a desire to impact their nation, China's volunteers will continue brighten the future long after the Olympic torch has passed from Beijing.

*Originally aired February 7, 2008.

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