Laowai Quake Relief Part III: Media Coverage vs. Reality

7 Comments
Distraction Free
What follows is the third part of a series of posts we’re running by fellow Laowai – Turner Sparks. Turner and his friend Jake decided just sitting around Suzhou and watching quake relief efforts on TV was not good enough, and so hopped into Turner’s car and pointed it towards Chengdu. Read Part I and Part II

I want to talk for a minute about the differences between what the media is reporting regarding the situation here (I can only speak for Chinese media as I haven’t seen international TV), and the reality of what we are seeing and experiencing.

First of all, Chendgu is completely fine and is operating as a normal city. Ambulance sirens are continuous throughout the night and day, and many people on the street are wearing shirts from their particular volunteer group, but beyond that it would be hard to tell that a major catastrophe recently occurred.

As I mentioned earlier many Chinese people told us “You must bring plenty of food and plenty of water because they have none in Chengdu”, while others said “Do not go to Chengdu, you will not be able to buy food or water and YOU will need to be rescued.” Both of these ideas are completely false and seem absolutely ridiculous after being here.

Secondly, we heard from multiple local people in Suzhou, “They already have enough aid workers, if you go you will just be getting in the way”. This is not only false, but also incredibly counter-productive and in fact dangerous. We are now occupied all day with volunteer duties and have actually had to pick some options over other requests after choosing the most pressing need. Not only have we been put to work from the minute we arrived, but every group we have worked with has thanked us for our help and seemed willing to accept more.

Earthquake Relief Operation – How To Help

As I have mentioned earlier one of my main goals for coming here was to find a trusted, reliable foundation or organization that I could recommend as a place for people to donate. I knew that I could only stay a week on this trip, so while my direct volunteer contributions would help in the short term, the long term work would be done by people who live here and organizations who are based here.

I have found two very good options in Heart to Heart and Bookworm Chengdu. Both are doing great work, but Bookworm Chengdu seems to need the funding a little bit more right now to do the projects they are working on, so while either would be a good option I would like to recommend Bookworm Chengdu. What follows is a description of their needs and plan from the owner Peter Goff.

A group of Chengdu-based expatriates have come together and are working out of the Bookworm to assist the relief operation. The focus is on direct relief to the areas hardest hit, and since the quake hit we have delivered several tons of aid into the affected areas, working in conjunction with the local authorities, the Red Cross and other NGOs on the ground.

Over the coming days we are following Heart to Heart crews into affected areas that are still in dire need of help. Heart to Heart are sending doctors into the worst affected areas to offer basic medical care. We have trucks that trail their crews loaded with tents (we’re getting in good quality 10-men tents for about 750rmb each) toiletries/hygiene products, water purifiers and basic cooking equipment/food supplies, mostly.

The load changes depending on the situation in the area of course. With donations we buy products in bulk (keeping all receipts etc). With 4.8 million people homeless, there is an urgent need for assistance.

For details on how to donate, visit Sichuan Quake Relief, or drop off your donations at any of the three (Chengdu, Suzhou, Beijing) Bookworms.

More Photos from the Front

The following photos were taken by Viviane Lucia Fluck, a 24-year-old German studying Chinese at Sichuan University. These were taken last Thursday in Dujiangyan. For more information about the photos, please contact Viviane at viviane.lucia.fluck[at]hotmail[dot]com

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Talk on Laowai Quake Relief Part III: Media Coverage vs. Reality


7 Comments
  1. This series is a great contribution to understanding the events, and the secret seems to be in its “feet on the ground” perspective. Thanks to the guys for not only what they have done, but also for telling us about it.

    Which brings me to my question: Read the recent Danwei article
    Compassion, logistics, and nerves begin to fray in Chengdu:

    “But by the time Jiao Na arrived, the aid structure was clogged, charlatans and con men had begun to take advantage of the situation, creating fraudulent donation websites and selling stolen donated supplies like tent materials on the side of the road. According to an employee of a local chamber of commerce, the local business community is also confused and exhausted by the unending appeals for aid from a multitude of just-sprung-to-life aid organizations. China has little experience with NGOs; civil society initiatives are the province of the government. Now there are student groups, foreign aid organizations, individuals, and various government agencies all acting at the same time, but not in concert.”

    The article actually is not as sensational as it may seem from the quote; there are some good points and concerns. I wonder if anyone out there with hands on experience could help us to fit this piece of jigsaw into the picture.

  2. Actually,
    Jake and I just got through with a couple days donating our time and efforts to Heart to Heart International and we have come to learn a few things about the real intentions of their group. I will not judge if they are good or bad but a full analysis will be presented in a future post.
    As to the notion of people selling bootleg tents, I haven’t seen it at all although that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I honestly doubt it is happening as the people in Chengdu have a strong feeling of community that could be compared closely to NYC after 9/11, and if something like this was happening I believe the word would get out quickly.
    Logistically, this article hits it on the head. This place needs a definate leader who can delegate responsibility and put people to work. Everyone wants to help out but nobody has a leader telling them what to do. This goes for the Chinese organizations (Red Cross) as well as the foreign ones (Heart to Heart). Hopefully in th near future everyone can designate a leader to make tough decisions and get everyone to work efficiently.

  3. Pingback: The China Daily Baily Diary » Are You Free?

  4. Pingback: Laowai Quake Relief Part IV: The Youth Lead by Example | Lost Laowai China Blog

  5. I am interested to read your thoughts concerning Heart to Heart before possibly assisting them. I’ll be waiting patiently.

  6. Pingback: Laowai Quake Relief Part V: Emergency Evangelism | Lost Laowai China Blog

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