Immediately following the May 12th earthquake, ActionAid went to work in the largely-unserved but hard-hit rural communities. Our teams were in remote villages around Sichuan – two days travel in many cases - and relief work was underway by May 15th. There were no local aid organizations to work through so ActionAid staff assessed the situation and began distributing relief materials on their own. Volunteers from Chegndu City were recruited to help drive the supplies over the already rough and now earthquake damaged roads.
By June 1, ActionAid provided relief materials to more than 17,000 people living in Cifeng and Longermenshan townships in Pengzhou country and in camps in Nanba township in Pingwu county, two of the hardest hit areas in the earthquake zone. In addition to providing tents to be used as schools and books, we also provided medical supplies to the Nanba relief camp – the only medical service available to local survivors – reaching 2,000 people.
ActionAid also supported six child sponsorship communities in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces participating with temporary shelters, relief materials and training on how to cope and rebuild in the aftermath of the earthquake. Our efforts in these communities provided relief supplies to 6,500 people. In Lueyang, Shaanxi province, we provided 109 families with tents and food. In Ninggiang, also of Shaanxi Provinec, we provided tents to serve as classrooms for 10 local elementary and middle schools. In Gansu province, we provided temporary shelters and cooking items to 93 villagers in Hui County.
While providing this direct, on-the-ground assistance, ActionAid sent our best responders to China to help with long-term recovery planning and coordination. We also initiated a dialogue with the Poverty Alleviation Department of the Chinese government about planning long-term recovery work.
Our child sponsorship communities immediately shifted the focus of their work to providing psychosocial care to school children and providing tents, books and supplies so that the schools could reopen. Our team also organized activities for International Children’s Day – a holiday equivalent in importance and anticipation to Christmas here in the US.
Our Ongoing Work in the Earthquake Zone
After the initial relief work was finished, ActionAid would up our work in the far-flung communities due to lack of local partners, lack of resources and tightened control by the Chinese government. We chose to focus our long-term rehabilitation work in Ninggiang, Shaanxi Province where we have a deep, sustaining presence. Our hope is to establish a model to provide insights and guidance for rehabilitation work across the country. Capacity-building for government officials is a key element of this strategy. Other activities include:
-- In late 2008, ActionAid helped 46 families in Ninggiang, Shaanxi Province to rebuild their homes. We will help another 50 families rebuild in the first six months of 2009.
-- ActionAid will provide micro-grants to farmers to replant and rehabilitate earthquake-affected crops throughout the Spring 2009 sowing season.
-- Following on a similar visit to Bangladesh, a team of Chinese government officials will visit India to meet with government aid officials, NGO representatives and ActionAid India staff to learn about what has worked in disaster response and to see work modeled at ongoing recovery efforts in India. A training video will be made to be shared more broadly across provincial governments in China. This trip will take place as soon as the relationship between the governments allows.
The rehabilitation process in the region will take years. With limited resources, it is important that ActionAid focus our efforts on identifying innovative, replicable approaches that can be sustained locally. Between the work rebuilding houses, the capacity building with the government and the restoration of livelihoods for farmers, ActionAid aims to influence how the rehabilitation work by national and local governments happens and to increase the voice and participation of their citizens in these efforts.
Peng Haihui, Disaster Relief Coordinator for Actionaid in China, describes his experience in a refugee camp in a rural community in Sichuan.
Please note that the word sunny accompanying most entries refers to the weather. The rural communities affected by the earthquake dread the onset of the rains, which will make recovery still more difficult. The rains began in late July.
May 19, Monday. Sunny
It’s not the mosquito which woke me up but the sun. Like most people in Mianyang, I slept in the open. People are afraid of aftershocks. Take my friend Liu Jianjun, who I met at the airport. He took me to his home when he knew that I was an earthquake relief worker. In his hometown, for example, the cracks on the walls of his new house made us feel as if the house was made out of paper. So we decided to sleep outside.
After leaving Mianyang, I headed for one of the worst-hit area -- Pingwu county. The Nanba township of Pingwu county has been completely cut off from external world since May 12 when earthquake stroke. I hitchhiked a ride on a mini-bus to where the road was destroyed by landslide and walked for almost two and half hours into Nanba town. Community members I met along the way directed me to the Nanba Disaster Relief Center, set up by local government, to collect information on the current situation and what refuges need the most.
May 20, Tuesday. Sunny
Today I went to visit refugee camps.
Talking with women, doctors and others, I was surprised to find that the military already organized a temporary tent school which already took in more than 150 students.
I collected first-hand information about what the community needed, what was being supplied by the government or other source, and began the long trek back to Chengdu to report to our country director. That night, after meeting with our staff, ActionAid committed to supply the emergency relief goods requested in my report.
May 21, Wednesday. Sunny
With money allocated, I went to Mianyang ogether with a couple of my colleagues, to buy relief goods such as toothpaste, toothbrush, towel, basin, cooking oil, rice. We also bought sanitary napkin for women, milk powder for infants. For students, we bought packs, pencil-box, notebook paper, jumping rope, chess for them. I believed the teacher and students would be very surprised and happy about that!
Also with the help of local volunteers, we managed to get one volunteer truck from the government’s Relief Center to transport our goods to Nanba, which was 3 hours away from Mianyang. Full of excitement, I jumped into the truck and headed for Nanba as if I was going to beat the monster of disaster.
May 20, Tuesday. Sunny
Today I went to visit refugee camps. Talking with women, doctors and others, I was surprised to find that the military already organized a temporary tent school which already took in more than 150 students. I collected first-hand information about what the community needed, what was being supplied by the government or other source, and began the long trek back to Chengdu to report to our country director.
That night, after meeting with our staff, ActionAid committed to supply the emergency relief goods requested in my report.
May 21, Wednesday. Sunny
With money allocated, I went to Mianyang ogether with a couple of my colleagues, to buy relief goods such as toothpaste, toothbrush, towel, basin, cooking oil, rice. We also bought sanitary napkin for women, milk powder for infants. For students, we bought packs, pencil-box, notebook, stationary, jumping rope, chess for them. I believed the teacher and students would be very surprised and happy about that!
Also, with the help of local volunteers, we managed to get one volunteer truck from the government’s Relief Center to transport our goods to Nanba, which was three hours away from Mianyang. Full of excitement, I jumped into the truck and headed for Nanba as if I was going to beat the monster of disaster.
May 22, Thursday. Sunny
It’s a day of distributing relief goods and we found that the number of students and refugees had increased a lot! We never imagined that the situation would change so quickly. So we decided to distribute education items to younger students first. At the same, we tried to talk with the teachers to collect more information about students, including the increased number, the needs of students and the temporary tent school in general.
For the villagers, we divided them into groups according to their respective refugee numbers. Most of the refugees came from three villages and we tried to find the village leader and discussed with them how to distribute the relief goods.
In an open area, with some refugees observing as witnesses for their communities, we distributed relief goods to three villages in turn. We asked the village leader to make a distribution list for each tent. Later, we would collect distribution list and check with the villagers with the list by visiting the tents.
After dinner, we did the visit and we were happy that so far everything was good! That night I slept very well, and even a powerful aftershock happened at night did not wake me up.
May 23, Friday. Sunny
Since most of the villagers were from three villages, my colleague and I decided to visit their villages to see what really happened to their home.
It took us three hours to reach the cut-off town—Shikan town. I was really shocked by what I saw there. The road looked like noodles twisted by the hand of nature. It seems that the houses made of paper instead of brick. They seemed like they could be crushed by the touch of bare hands.
The Shikan town now is literally a dead town. It’s hard to believe this town used to be a prosperous mining community. But now, all those people, their happiness and sorrow has had gone forever in one minute. Walking through the debris of Shikan town, I felt as if I was the ghost drifting through the cemeteries.
May 24, Saturday. Sunny
With the updated assessment on the refugee camps and tent schools, we went back to Mianyang to purchase more relief good, particularly to buy supplies for the students and the teachers: they needed books, blackboard, pen, and other stationary badly.
Besides first-aid medicines, the refugee camps are also short of medicine related to woman’s productive health. So we decided to buy them in Chengdu—the capital of Sichuan province
We bought medicine and other relief goods, including radio, battery, thick chilly sauce important to the cooking in the region, etc. With the help of a local organization, we also got donated books and toys for the children.
As the International Children’s Day (which is as important in China as Christmas is in the United States) was around the corner, we decided to hold an gala for students to celebrate the international Children’s Day. Prodded by this idea, we also bought a lot of materials like colorful lights, eggs, banners, and balloons.
Loaded with relief goods in the volunteer’s truck, together with the good wishes to all students, we hit the road again.
May 30, Thursday. Sunny
After school, we work with students, teachers and soldiers to prepare for tomorrow’s festival. We decorate the tent, blow the balloon, and hang the colorful flags... It’s pitch dark when we finished the preparation, yet all of us do not feel tired at all. I believe that tomorrow the whole yard would be turned into a Disney Land and the students would feel that they were in paradise. Gone would be the dismal clouds hanging on the refugee camps.
May 31, Saturday. Sunny
Today, the sun beams and reveals the veil of the new paradise built in the center of hell. The school was transformed into the ocean of smiling, surprised children. All students are very excited, with all teachers smiling too.
We held some competitions like three-legged races, sack races and other fun things. The cheers from students go straight to my heart. I can see their confidence, firmness and optimism in the students face as well in their future.
For the winner of the competitions, we have toys as the awards. For the rest of the students, we also have prepared small gifts for every students—no one was left empty-handed, just like everybody was affected by the devastating earthquake. And I understood that it’s time for the people to clear the tears and devoted to the rebuilding of their community.
Pengzhou, in Sichuan province was one of the worst-hit areas by the earthquake. While people in the cities received immediate help after the earthquake, rural villagers in the vicinity of Pengzhou were desperate to hear from outside world.
"We needed shelter dry blankets, food, medicine, and everything", said Wang Shunfu, the village head Huangcheng Village in Pengzhou area.
The death toll in the Cifeng township of Pengzhu has been lower than the towns further north, where many people were buried when their houses collapsed.
"When the earthquake hit, most of us were in the field, which saved our lives", said Wang Shunfu.
According to him, among Huangcheng village's 1300 inhabitants, eight were found dead, 16 were injured and seven are still missing.
However, over 90% of the houses either collapsed or were severely damaged.
"Most of our villages are now flattened", he added.
Many villagers spent the first few days and nights in a state of shock, fear, cold, and darkness as the rain poured relentlessly.
While the main focus for the government wass on the life-saving rescue work in bigger towns, the rural villages were somewhat neglected.
ActionAid's response focused on villages like Pengzhou.
To meet the immediate need of the rural villagers, ActionAid's emergency team sent food, water, flashlights and hundreds of tents to Huangcheng Village and Yonghua Village two days after the earthquake.
"We have lost everything. Everything is buried down there." said Zhou, a female villager, "We don’t even have a cooking pot."
Even now the villagers are still terrified.
"You should really go to see it. The mountain was literally torn apart. It's something you can never imagine on your own", said Zhou Jingfeng, referring to the massive landslides took places all over the mountain ranges in the area.
With 5 million people left homeless after the earthquake, ActionAid provided tents to serve as temporary shelters and as schools in these small villages.
Yonghua village, where majority of its 2,800 villagers were homeless after the earthquake, the government was able to supply only 10 tents. ActionAid focuses on bridging the gaps between what is availale and what is needed.
In addtion to providing tents, ActionAid acquired 3,000 square meters of waterproof materials, along with scissors and ropes so villages can make temporary shelters in the meantime.
Compared to the mountainous area further north, where whole villages were destroyed, villagers in Cifeng might be considered lucky - they still have their farms.
"The wheat harvest will start in a couple days, and hopefully, we can rebuild our village", said Luo.
In the villages that were not so luck, ActionAid is providing immediate food, shelter and medical assistance and, more importantly, working on long-term recovery strategies to ensure the safety and self-sufficiency of these communities.
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