Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Left the farm behind today, and headed back to Chengdu. So, we trade the misty beauty of the Sichuan countryside for the cities. Hank and Andy will return to Beijing, while I move on to Chongqing.

It's not easy for me to put all my thoughts together and come up with a simple conclusive statement about what I have seen over the past two weeks. But I do have a couple observations.

First of all, there is the matter of construction standards. I have already mentioned the contrast between the dormitory and the teaching building at Beichuan Middle School. The dormitory looked perfect, and the teaching building right next to it was a heap of rubble. No structure whatsoever. Now, I was there some time after the quake, so it's possible that there was some structure remaining that was knocked down for safety purposes. Whatever the case may be, the difference between the two buildings, and the way they were affected by the quake clearly shows a need for construction standards that give some consideration to siesmic load. Japan has shown the world that buildings can be built to greatly minimize casualty in an earthquake.

The other thing this earthquake exposed is the desperate need for a mature NGO (Non-governmental Organization) structure in this country. Right now, it is very hard to set up an NGO in China. The government seems to believe that it is "safer" (politically, of course) for them to handle everything themselves. But the group of Christians I worked with in Beichuan demonstrated how much can be accomplished by a few kind people who are willing to give of their time to help people who's lives have been horribly disrupted.

Picture a lady sitting in her living room. No walls. No roof. Just the floor. But it is her home, and she doesn't want to leave it. The government is building thousands of small, prefab houses for the earthquake victims. Nothing fancy, but I have seen these structures, and they are very good as temporary shelter. But the folks I met don't want to be moved to a prefab neighborhood. They want to stay in their homes. A more fully developed NGO structure would make this possible for at least some of them. Imagine being able to mobilize hundreds of volunteers to help local people put their houses back together.

The day before the horrible tragedy in Beichuan, one of the teachers took these pictures of a school activity. It's hard to look at the faces of these happy young people, and know what they could never know--that 24 hours later, most of them would be dead. It's a tragedy too immense to comprehend. Many are quick to place blame. But in my opinion, this should not be the focus. Such an awesome tragedy should call all of us to consider what can be done both to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, and what can be done to harness the willingness of would-be volunteers through independent NGO's

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