One year on, home fund brings Wednesday, May 13 2009
By Celine Sun
A permanent house was once little more than a dream for Huang Maobin, farmer of Qingquan village, Mianzhu city in Sichuan.
Mr Huang has been living with his parents, brother, wife and daughter in a shoddy temporary shelter for the past year since the devastating earthquake struck the province on May 12 last year. Like most makeshift houses built in the village after the quake, the Huangs' shelter is around 50 square metres in size and made of old planks of wood, bamboo and plastic sheeting.
As there were not enough planks during construction, one of the shelter's two rooms - the bedroom of Mr Huang, 38, and his wife, Yang Fengying, 30 - was made of plastic sheeting alone. "It's actually not too bad. My only concern is that it might get very hot and stuffy inside when summer comes," he said.
Despite their poor living conditions, Mr Huang and his wife have no plan to rebuild their home for the moment since they have hardly any savings.
"In our place, an ordinary house of around 150 square metres costs no less than 100,000 yuan. That's an astronomical figure for me," said Mr Huang, the only breadwinner in his family.
Many years ago, Mr Huang's father lost his ability to work due to injuries to his legs. The family suffered further misfortune in 1995 when his brother, who worked for manufacturer in Jiangxi province, suffered a work accident. As the factory owner refused to pay any compensation and the family could not afford to pay for the expensive treatment, Mr Huang's brother ended up in a wheelchair.
Before the quake, Mr Huang could just make ends meet for his six-member family by working as a renovation worker. But the disaster destroyed their only assets and changed their lives. "We had a family meeting. I told my parents that we could not afford a new house and we had to continue living here for longer," recalled Mr Huang. "Both my parents agreed. They knew we had no option."
But just as the family gave up on their dream of owning a house, a ray of hope emerged. Mr Huang and other villagers learned that the Homes for Hope project, a charity effort initiated by the
Launched by the SCMP in March this year, the Homes for Hope project aims to raise HK$18 million for two hard-hit villages in Sichuan - Qingquan village and Shengnan new village in Jiuzhaigou - to construct quake-resistant houses and necessary infrastructure facilities. Rather than providing funds directly to the two villages, it supplies construction materials, such as concrete, steel bars and bricks. On-site managers monitor the purchasing and construction process, liaising with local officials.
At Qingquan village, which has since merged with nearby mountain villages Hongyan and Shaba, more than 95 per cent of buildings collapsed and 66 people died in the magnitude-7.9 earthquake last year. In the entire province, more than 70,000 people died and millions were left homeless overnight in the catastrophe. One year on, the construction on the first batch of 162 houses has begun, and these structures are expected to be completed next month. All the houses will be built in line with national construction criteria to resist magnitude 8 earthquakes.
Mr Huang is among the first batch of beneficiaries. In total more than 500 households will receive assistance amounting to a third of the costs of building new homes from the central government and Homes for Hope. Families who lack funds will receive full funding for smaller 375 sq ft homes.
Aside from the subsidies, Mr Huang borrowed 30,000 yuan from relatives and plans to apply for a loan from a local bank to cover the rest of the costs.
"There's an old saying in our place - `a tiger has its cave, a rat has its hole'. Everyone needs a roof overhead."
Since the construction started in Qingquan two months ago, many villagers have become daily visitors to the site, keen to check the latest progress of the construction.
Among them is Wang Xiaowen, 68. Mr Wang, originally a farmer in Hongyan village, was working on a mountain road with six other people when the earthquake struck. Three of them were seriously injured in rock slides.
When Mr Wang got home, after taking the injured to hospital, he was shocked to find his house had been reduced to rubble and everything inside it smashed. Gazing at the debris of his home, Mr Wang said he could not help crying. "At that moment, I felt there was no hope in my life," he said.
In the following days, he and family members built a makeshift shelter with any materials they could find. In winter, wind would blow into the house through big gaps in the walls; at night, the lights were too dim for his grandson to do his homework; every morning and evening, they had to queue for a long time to use one of the three toilets shared by members of more than 100 households.
Even so, Mr Wang does not have many complaints. "It's fine. It wasn't that cold after we added another layer of bamboo panelling to the walls."
According to local policy, people aged 60 or above are not eligible to apply for government loans to rebuild houses. So Mr Wang had to rely on his two sons to send him money to rebuild, but they couldn't provide enough to build a house.
After learning about Homes for Hope, Mr Wang said he was very excited. "It's indeed a great favour for me. I don't know how I could build my house otherwise."
Recently, Mr Wang has started dropping by the construction site at least twice a day to check out the construction of the new house. "I want to see how my house is constructed. After all, this is likely the place we will live in for generations to come," he said.
Cheng Degang, chief of Jiulong county in Mianzhu, is in charge of the reconstruction in Qingquan and several other nearby villages. He estimated that all the houses for the 976 families in Qingquan would be completed by September this year and people could move into their new homes by the end of the year.
"People will never feel settled without a permanent house," he said. "Our villagers are really grateful for the help offered by Homes for Hope. A permanent home will be a real start for them in getting back to normal life."
In the long run, the local government plans to develop rural tourism and ecological agriculture in the area, which is known for its beautiful countryside views.
"I'm confident that Qingquan will become an even more beautiful place when all the new houses are completed," Mr Cheng said.