Sunday, May 25, 2008


It’s really heart warming to see the unity among the people, government, army, ngo, volunteers, private sector and freelance helpers to join forces to rally to help the victims of the quake, that has left more then 60,000 thousand dead , 2 million homeless, and thousands still missing.

The number of volunteers involved in the relief effort in the Sichuan earthquake zone has climbed above 100,000; about 70,000 of them are formally registered, while the others are casual freelance helpers.

This almost rivals the number of PLA soldiers in the region, which peaked at 140,000 and is now declining.

Middle-class members of the Beijing SUV Club collected funds to pack their vehicles with supplies of medicines, clothes and food. They obtained leave from their offices and drove 1600km to the quake area. The journey took them 23 hours.

With the emergence of a new wealthy class, philanthropy has been developing apace in China during the past few years. It is helping to fill the yawning chasm in welfare that exists despite the Communist Party's rule.

The country now has about 400 private foundations, 70 of them with a national scope, the rest provincially based.

Non-government organisations don't have an easy time in China.

Like religions, they are barely tolerated by a ruling party that remains intensely jealous and suspicious of any organisation that does not owe it direct loyalty.

People have greater freedom than before to create their own lifestyles, to consume as they wish. But there is no right of free association. It is possible to gain government approval to register a group activity, but only if the Government agrees with what the group does.

So this independent flood of volunteers into Sichuan following the quake has taken everyone by surprise: the Government, the NGOs and the volunteers.

No one co-ordinated it. It has been a spontaneous response, mainly by people in their 20s, who are widely criticised for their lack of values and their commitment to making money and having fun.

Each day the roads from the Sichuan capital, Chengdu, up to the mountainous areas at the epicentre of the quake are lined with volunteers' vehicles with their bright solidarity banners: "Sichuan people, hold on; China, let's go." They are waved through the toll gates. Corporate China is getting behind them, which is good for image and for business, with many of the volunteers being among the better educated and higher earning members of the vast population.

As soon as one of the country's major banks detects ATM use in Chengdu, it sends a message to the mobile phone of the account holder offering free insurance, presuming the customer is volunteering.

Once China Mobile discerns that its phone user is making calls from Chengdu, it sends a text message saying no roaming charges will be payable while the user is in Sichuan.

In the gardens at the front of the modern city government offices at Mianyang, the administrative centre of the county where the quake damage has been most severe - and now the HQ for the local relief effort - tables are spread under tent roofs.

China Unicom is providing 20 free phone lines for victims, their relatives and volunteers, to call anywhere.

One woman called a friend in another city to say she was now all alone, everyone she knew had been killed, and her house had collapsed. The woman behind her in the queue for the phone invited her to stay at her home as long as she liked.

The Jiuzhou sports stadium on the edge of Mianyang is the biggest refugee camp in the region, with about 30,000 people. It is a heart-breaking scene. People of all ages are sleeping on concrete under the stands. Those who have lost everything have palpable material needs. It's more difficult to fill the void in their lives created by the loss of family members, friends, lovers and workmates.

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