JIA was founded in 2004 in Guangdong, China, as a non-profit NGO to coordinate community service work camps to help Chinese villages of people affected by leprosy. There are some 600 such villages in China, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s when persons diagnosed with the disease were relocated to remote mountain areas. Many of these villages are extremely poor, lack access to adequate medical care and have been cut off from the outside world for decades. Because of stigma, their aging residents have never been able to return home.
Work camps generally last between one week to 10 days, during which time volunteers work on projects to improve residents' living conditions . including building toilets, repairing roofs, constructing roads and digging drainage ditches.
JIA has its roots in Friends International Work Camp, an NGO set up in Japan in the early 1950s. The first work camps in China pre-date JIA, which was set up to provide a sound organizational structure as the concept took hold. Initially the work camps were largely supervised by foreign volunteers, but today the majority of staff running the organization are Chinese.
An important part of JIA's work is to carry out needs-assessments to clarify the general situation in the villages and identify specific projects to be undertaken by volunteers. Other key functions are to promote work camps among potential volunteers, host fund-raising events and run training workshops.
Between 2001 and 2006, 1,200 people from 15 countries and regions participated in 64 work camps, touching the lives of 1,000 people affected by leprosy in 24 villages in China.
As JIA grows, it plans to broaden its social commitment beyond leprosy to include the elderly, the orphaned and rural areas suffering from extreme poverty. It has established a JIA Global Network, and is currently looking at the possibility of holding work camps in Vietnam.