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Quake prompts growth in NGOs

China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-13 09:23

Quake prompts growth in NGOs

Students play at Weicheng primary school in Mianyang city, Sichuan province, which lost 135 students in an earthquake in 2008. [Photo by Feng Yongbin / China Daily]

Volunteers learn from disaster experience, reports Hu Yongqi in Mianyang, Sichuan.

Leaning heavily on a walking stick, Li Zhenping panted as he limped along a rocky road to visit his old friend Fu Chengxi.

The 55-year-old from Shuping village, Beichuan county, has been using the cane since he broke his leg carrying a patient up the stairs of a hospital.

When Li reached the village, Fu was waiting with his motorbike. Li hopped on and they set off, leaving behind a trail of dust. The friendship that began in the aftermath of the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 has been maintained in this simple but enduring way.

Their first meeting came during a rescue operation in the village, 70 kilometers from Mianyang in Sichuan province. Li arrived at Shuping the day after the earthquake, in which approximately 69,000 people lost their lives. Fu, then deputy head of the village committee, was overwhelmed by the job of pulling property from the debris and Li was the only person to lend a helping hand.

During the two months that followed, Fu and Li pulled hundreds of valuable items from the ruins and returned them to their owners, if they were still alive. In a year of quake-relief operations, Li and his volunteer team helped 2,000 people travel to the hospital and transported more than 100 metric tons of supplies, such as food, water and tents.

On May 31, 2008, Li founded the Leifeng Volunteer Service Station in downtown Mianyang. The NGO provides ongoing support for quake-hit areas of the city, mainly working with the elderly and children whose parents have moved away as migrant workers.

Quake prompts growth in NGOsA month ago, Li borrowed the car of a fellow volunteer and drove to Shuping to check the walnut trees that well-wishers had donated to the isolated spot. After a 60-minute drive from Mianyang, Li finally arrived at the village, where Fu, 45, was waiting for him. A further hour on the motorbike saw the two men arrive at Fu's house. The distance is only 5 km, but the local geography and the dirt roads mean progress is often slow.

"During the time of the quake, I discovered that Shuping lacked ways to help farmers increase their incomes. Although the barren land is so rocky that many plants won't grow, it's perfect for walnut and other types of tree," said Li.

Three years ago, Fu's family planted the first group of walnut saplings on an area covering roughly one hectare. In another two years the trees are expected to bear fruit. "We can grow other plants in the spaces between the trees, which means we can sow profitable crops," said Fu.

Li was one of more than 1 million people who volunteered for relief work in the quake zone in the month after the Wenchuan earthquake. In light of his contribution, Li was given the "outstanding volunteer" award by the China Association of Social Workers in 2009.

"The quake fundamentally changed my life and those of other volunteers in Mianyang. A dozen nongovernmental organizations were founded almost overnight after the quake five years ago and most of them are still pursuing their goals of helping those in need," said Li.

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