Build for hope

Build for hope

15 November, 2012
Habitat for Humanity
Rural village in Sichuan, China gets a helping hand
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In 2008, Sichuan experienced a devastating earthquake that took more than 68,000 lives and left 5 million people displaced, although some reports put the figure as high as 11 million. In the Mayan Village of Youzha Township, Qionglai City, a severe rainstorm swept through the area the following year in 2009, leaving homes in precarious situations on the already-damaged mountainous terrain.
 
The remote location and lack of reliable public transportation to Mayan Village has meant that many people live in dire conditions, as homes often don’t have access to proper sanitation, stable electricity and a clean water supply. To survive, many villagers rely on subsistence farming and raising livestock.
 
Slowly, however, the landscape has begun to repair itself and the Qionglai City government has pledged support to the national “New Rural Construction Policy” enacted in 2010 where higher levels of safety are required in the construction of new homes, which ultimately improve the quality of life. This picturesque mountain-scape, only 60km away from the provincial capital of Chengdu, is home to over 400 families with a total population of 1,380 people. Some villagers are still living in homes built a century ago with mud, wood and green bricks – materials that are susceptible to landslides.
 
In the scheme, new houses are constructed with strong cement and are able to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. Villagers can opt to join the program on a voluntary basis, but the building cost for each home (approximately RMB100,000 or USD 16,000) far exceeds the average annual per capital income of RMB5,900 (USD940). Although the government can provide financial assistance to each family in the amount of RMB30,000 (USD4,800), villagers are left to settle the remaining balance. This is where Habitat for Humanity steps in. Through the aid of volunteers, Habitat for Humanity can subsidize the cost of building the house even further, and work with the villagers to come up with a payment plan that everyone is happy with.
 
As this was my first Habitat for Humanity build, I was both excited and nervous upon arrival. Sure, I had read all the preparation documents and heard first-hand accounts of previous Habitat builds, but you don’t really know what to expect until you actually get there and see it for yourself.
 
Having lived in large cities all my life, it was a breath of fresh air to arrive in a remote village in the heart of the countryside. Through this, I was more easily able to immerse myself in the entire experience. It also helped that there wasn’t wireless Internet available everywhere, so my Internet addiction was put at bay… for a while, at least.
 
Our build days on the work site were filled with tasks such as moving bricks, mixing cement, laying bricks, shoveling gravel… you name it, and we probably did it. I know the tasks sound mundane, but there was something about using my hands and physically moving things around that really appealed to me, as opposed to sitting in front of a computer and typing up words that people may or may not read. Everyone was given a chance to try his or her hand at the various jobs on the work site. After the long build days, we would have dinner together and explore the city by night. Granted, it was a fairly small city compared to Hong Kong, but it was a great bonding experience to try to find our way around to the local hotspots (i.e. the one pub that could seat all of us).
 
Even though the main focus of the trip was to help build houses, there were days where we got a little taste of what life was like for those who actually live there. On one morning, we went to visit one of the beneficiaries – an 80-something-year-old grandmother who currently lives at a home that rests at the top of the hill of Mayan Village. The pathway leading up to her house was carved into the rock surface as steps, and on many turns there was little room between the mountain face and potentially tumbling down to your doom. The steps also proved to be extremely slippery at any hint of moisture. It was clear to us that as Grandma Yang advanced in years, the journey up and down the mountain would become more difficult for her, and access to medical care would also be compromised.
 
Additionally, Habitat volunteers also lent a hand at a local farm and did some manual labor. The morning was a bit gloomy and it even rained a little bit, but that couldn’t deter us from helping out.
 
At the end of the Build, I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. We all worked towards a common goal and achieved it through teamwork – the group of 50 volunteers that arrived in Sichuan as strangers left as friends. We were now a community and even though it’s likely that we may never see each other again, we will always look back to this moment and have fond memories.
 
Will I ever do another Habitat for Humanity build? You can bet on it.
 
Check out more pictures from the Build in Ecozine's Gallery!

By: Esther Wong
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