Villagers are rebuilding their Wednesday, May 13 2009
By Celine Sun
The Shengnan New Village in Sichuan province is probably one of the newest villages in the country.
Just an hour's ride from scenic Jiuzhaigou county in the north of the province, the village was constructed to shelter quake victims from three nearby mountain villages months after the earthquake on May 12 last year.
According to the local government, 118 families, mostly Tibetans, will settle in a safer and more convenient place than their original homes in the mountains. The construction of residents' houses is almost finished, but basic facilities, such as water and power, roads and sewage, are still unavailable due to a lack of funds.
Yang Xingfang, 54, moved to Shengnan with her family six months ago. Although living conditions at her new home have been greatly improved, she still faces daily inconveniences. Every morning, like many other villagers, the first thing Ms Yang does is to go to a nearby village to carry water back for her family's daily use, since there is no tap water or wells in the village.
"It's about half an hour's walk from my home," Ms Yang said. "It's quite a tough job in hot weather. With two heavy buckets on my yoke, it often makes me sweaty. I have to take three or four breaks on my way back."
The water left in the buckets is often not enough for them to take a bath or to wash clothes. "My biggest headache is washing clothes," she said. "We have to carry our laundry to the other place to wash [them]. It's very troublesome."
No electricity and concrete pathways are other concerns. The unpaved roads in the village are gravel, which makes it difficult for children and the elderly to walk on. Ms Yang said it was common for people to tumble, or even get injured in the evening as there were no street lamps in the area.
Sharing the concerns of villagers in Shengnan, the Homes for Hope project, a charity drive by the South China Morning Post, helps villagers deal with their basic needs. The project will provide concrete, steel and other construction materials to build water supplies, a reservoir, a water filtering system, pathways, power supplies, a sewage system, a central square, a dam and a clinic.
An on-site manager has been hired to monitor the construction and liaise with local officials.
"Shengnan can be called a real home for the people only after all these necessary facilities become available," said Huang Heming, a local official in charge of the village. After the earthquake, the local government merged three quake-hit mountain villages - Shengli, Nanan and Guadiyan - and named it Shengnan New Village. All the residents moved to this place at the foot of a mountain and close to main roads.
"These villagers used to make a living by planting herbs and mining in mountains," he said. "They led a pretty hard life considering their tough work and unstable earnings. During the earthquake, all of their houses collapsed. It's impossible for them to go on living there due to geological hazards after the quake. They must come out."
To rebuild their homes, most families have withdrawn all their savings or borrowed money from relatives and banks. The construction costs are high, but Mr Huang said the "infrastructure is not only indispensable for their daily life, it is also important for the long-term development of Shengnan. We hope to develop the village into a new tourist site in Jiuzhaigou county".
Local government officials believe that Shengnan enjoys rich tourist resources with its Tibetan culture, natural scenery and convenient traffic networks.
Most of the residents in Shengnan belong to Baima Tibetan, a Tibetan subgroup living in northwest Sichuan and southeast Gansu province. The minority group is known for its folk songs, colourful costumes and traditional Zhou dancing, which has been a popular way of life for hundreds of years for people who want to worship nature.
Jiuzhaigou is the birthplace of this traditional art, which forms part of the Chinese cultural heritage.
Dancers wear masks of dragons, tigers, oxen, lions, leopards or sometimes ghosts, while dancing round the fire to the beat of drums, gongs and rings.
Zhang Dai, 50, is a Zhou dance performer in the village. A vivid tiger mask he wears during performances is his father's.
"My father taught me Zhou dancing when I was still a kid," he said.
Smooth in pace and rational in rhythm, the original idea for the dance in ancient times was to "explain matters through imitating animals". Today, it has turned into an important show for the locals when they celebrate festivals or welcome guests. "We will be more than happy to show our dance to outside guests," said Mr Zhang, showing the hospitable side of Baima Tibetan residents. "We will serve them with our highland barley liquor, yak meat and a toast."
Looking ahead, Mr Zhang said he was excited and hopeful. "It will be great if our village can become a tourist destination one day," he said. "Of course, it will bring us more income. But what's more important is that we can get to know more people from the outside world.
"I am barely literate and my life is very simple. I hope to have chance to talk to other people and know more about what's happening in the outside world."
Thanks to the Homes for Hope, Shengnan new village will have a central square for the residents to gather. Other necessary facilities, such as public toilets, pathways, street lamps and a clinic sponsored by the project, will be built to take care of the possible needs of tourists.
"The villagers had lived in mountains for generations," Mr Huang said.
"Now their lives will undergo a total change in their new homes in Shengnan. We are grateful for Homes for Hope for helping to make this change a better one."