A group of young students from Wuhan University of Engineering Science, in Hubei province, are bringing joy to elderly couples by helping them to commemorate their big day through wedding photography. These students are offering this community service to older couples who had no chance to take formal wedding photos when they were young.
One such couple is Zhang Jianjun and Qin Shumei who, after being married for 38 years, decided that it was finally time to take their wedding photos. They were dressed in formal attire and were supported by a team of young photographers, lighting operators, and makeup artists who helped them overcome their nervousness and capture the perfect shots.
For Qin, who is 64 years old and from Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, this was a dream come true. She expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to wear a wedding dress and to have her special day captured in a photograph. Qin and her husband Zhang may not have had an intense love, but they believe that it’s important to keep each other company.
While today’s young couples often travel to picturesque destinations to have their wedding photos taken by professional photographers, those from the older generation kept things simple. In the 1970s, newlyweds often only took a black-and-white photo as a memento of their big day. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when the Chinese economy began to blossom, that professional wedding photo studios started to appear.
The ambitious project to provide wedding photography services to elderly couples was initiated in 2015 by Yu Jinwen, a counselor from the university. The project was inspired by Yu’s own experience of searching for a decent photo of his grandfather when he passed away in 2010. The family was unable to find a suitable photo and had to use the photo on his ID card at his funeral, which became Yu’s greatest regret in life.
Yu’s goal with the project is twofold. Firstly, he hopes to bring joy to the elderly couples who missed out on the opportunity to take formal wedding photos when they were younger. Secondly, he wants to provide an opportunity for young students to improve their skills and abilities through community service. He believes that juniors should pay more attention to seniors, many of whom are too shy to express their needs and desires.
The students involved in the project are providing a valuable service to the community by helping older couples to capture memories of their special day. By working with the elderly couples, the students are not only honing their photography skills but also learning about the importance of empathy, communication, and patience.
For the older couples, having their wedding photos taken is a chance to relive the memories of their special day and to celebrate their enduring love. It’s also an opportunity to share their stories with younger generations and to remind them of the value of commitment and companionship.
This project is a beautiful example of how community service can bring joy and meaning to people’s lives. It’s heartening to see young people using their skills and abilities to help others, and to see older generations being celebrated and valued in society. It’s a reminder that love and companionship are timeless and that everyone deserves to have their special moments captured in a photograph.
A heartwarming initiative by students from Wuhan University of Engineering Science is bringing joy to elderly couples who never had a chance to take wedding photos. Zhang Jianjun and Qin Shumei, married for 38 years, are among the couples who have had their photos taken thanks to the program. For newlyweds in the 1970s, taking just a black-and-white photo to commemorate their big day was the norm. But with the emergence of professional wedding photo studios in the early 1990s, the younger generation now goes all out for their photoshoots.
Yu Jinwen, a counselor at the university, initiated the project in 2015 after a personal experience. When his grandfather passed away, the family was unable to find a decent photo of him and had to use his ID card photo for the funeral. This inspired Yu to start a project that would help the elderly capture their memories while they still could. He recruited more than 400 student volunteers who have since taken 50,000 wedding photos of about 650 elderly couples in Hubei and its neighboring provinces.
The students, who provide their services as a form of community service, communicate with the elderly couples to help them overcome any nervousness they might feel during the photoshoot. They provide makeup and lighting services and offer simple backgrounds for those who prefer to take photos at home. Some retired soldiers prefer to wear their green army uniforms, which smartly match the red garments of their wives, while others opt for traditional red Chinese wedding outfits.
The students take the time to learn about the love stories of the elderly and record them for posterity. They choose a subject of conversation that appeals to the couples, such as asking about their previous occupation. The program has become increasingly popular, with more and more volunteers signing up every year. In the first year, only 15 students participated, but now there are between 100 and 150 volunteers divided into 10 teams every year.
The students are trained and assigned tasks based on their expertise. They develop the films, frame the photos, and deliver them via courier. The program has touched the lives of many elderly couples, who are often too shy to express their demands. Some have even cried and said that the photos were an essential memento of their departed spouse.
The program has won recognition and accolades from both the elderly couples and the wider community. In 2019, the students took wedding photos for retired soldiers while Wuhan was holding the Military World Games. The public-spirited program won a silver prize at the sixth Chinese Youth Volunteer Service Project Competition.
Yu says that the program has not only benefited the elderly couples but also the students who participate in it. They have learned greatly from the stories of the elderly, who come from all walks of life. Exposure to different life experiences is an invaluable lesson for the students, who are about to enter society themselves. The older generation shares their own life experiences, rather than talking about profound principles. Listening to their stories helps the students straighten out their thinking about many things.
The program has brought joy to many elderly couples who never had a chance to take wedding photos. It has also provided an opportunity for students to learn from the experiences of the older generation. The touching love stories of the couples have left a lasting impression on the students, who have gained a deeper understanding of love from a different perspective. The program is a reminder that simple deeds can have a profound impact on people’s lives
Zhao Xinguo, 74, and his wife Li Luanjiao, 75, got married in 1974 with just a pack of cigarettes, one kilogram of candy, and two tables of relatives. Zhao served in the navy and came home on vacation to register their marriage. The couple maintained their long-distance relationship through letter writing. However, in 1982, Li developed rheumatism which started her health decline, and in 2016, she had a stroke which left her needing a crutch to move around. Three years later, she became completely bedridden.
Zhao has been caring for his wife the entire time, doing everything from making meals to feeding and massaging her. When the weather is good, he carries her on his back downstairs and takes her out in a wheelchair around the community to enjoy fresh air and sunshine. The couple’s enduring love has been a source of inspiration for others, especially younger generations. In 2019 and 2022, volunteers visited the couple to take wedding photos for them. During the visit, Zhao bought the volunteers watermelons to quench their thirst.
Zhao expressed his gratitude to the university in a thank-you letter, acknowledging the volunteers’ efforts to serve rural areas. He believed the activity was meaningful, bringing back sweet memories of when they were young. He also felt that the volunteers’ ability to endure hardships while performing these social services had improved through the activity.
Zhao served in the navy for 17 years while Li looked after their son and daughter. When Li fell ill, he felt a deep sense of responsibility to take care of her. He believes that the key to a good marriage is tolerance and cherishing each other. He acknowledged that couples may quarrel, but they need time to come together again.
Volunteer Zhao Chen, 21, who visited the couple last year, was touched by their story. He spent two hours chatting with the couple and felt that their love was about being with each other and offering mutual help and support in times of difficulty. He acknowledged that younger generations often view love as something fleeting, like fast food, and are often unsure of what love truly means.
Zhao Chen believed that older couples like Zhao Xinguo and Li Luanjiao have wonderful life stories that are waiting to be discovered by volunteers. He was also impressed by another couple that the team filmed. Despite the grandpa’s battle with cancer and only having three months left to live, the couple still smiled happily and imbued the volunteers with their enthusiasm. He believes that the older generation’s serious attitude toward love and work is worth learning from.
The enduring love between Zhao Xinguo and Li Luanjiao serves as an inspiration for many, especially younger generations. Their simple, yet powerful message of cherishing and tolerating each other has resonated with many. The volunteers’ efforts to serve rural areas and discover the life stories of older couples like Zhao Xinguo and Li Luanjiao have also highlighted the importance of caring for the elderly and learning from their experiences.
Yu, the initiator of the program, remembers the challenges that the project encountered during its early days. The budget was always tight, but with the help of good-hearted volunteers, they managed to overcome many obstacles. For instance, one of Yu’s friends who had closed his wedding photo studio in Wuhan donated about 100 sets of secondhand wedding dresses to the program.
The university supports the project by paying for uniforms and insurance for students. Although some donations are received, most funds are raised by the students themselves, who sell secondhand items in a flea market on campus, do part-time jobs, and pay for their own expenses.
At the outset, many of the elderly residents did not trust the volunteers and were wary of their intentions, believing it to be a scam for money. However, the program’s reputation has grown, and it has become more widely recognized. Besides canvassing, they also coordinate with the university’s Communist Youth League of China to reach elderly residents in the communities. Ads for the program can also be found in newspapers and online platforms.
Yu believes that the program’s growth and success are due in part to the difficulties that the students overcame in the early stages of the project. He says, “No pain, no gain. It’s through these difficulties that students have learned about the significance of the project, and overcoming them gives a sense of achievement.”
The program has now matured, and Yu is pleased to see that other universities and institutions are running similar projects for the elderly, benefiting a wider population. The project’s success has made it easily replicable, and Yu believes that it can serve as a model for others.
The volunteers’ dedication to the program has been inspiring. They have learned the value of hard work and the satisfaction that comes with helping others. Through their efforts, they have not only made a positive impact on the lives of the elderly but have also grown personally and developed valuable skills that will serve them well in the future.
The project has also helped bridge the generation gap, bringing young and old together and creating meaningful connections between them. Through the program, the volunteers have gained a better understanding of the lives and struggles of the elderly, and the elderly have had the opportunity to share their life experiences and wisdom with the younger generation.
Yu believes that the project’s success lies in the simplicity of the idea and the volunteers’ commitment to making a positive difference in the community. He hopes that the program will continue to grow and evolve, providing more opportunities for young people to give back to their communities and make a meaningful impact on the lives of the elderly.