New life blossoms in a shattered Wednesday, May 12 2010
A village rises with renewed vigour from rubble of 2008 quake
By Amy Nip in Sichuan
On a warm spring morning in March, villagers rubbed shoulders as they climbed a hill overlooking their new village, Qingquan, in Sichuan province. They were flocking to the annual Pear Flower Festival, where fragrant patches of white blossom were the focus of attention of tourists and locals alike.
Local family-run restaurants hummed with loud chatter. Numerous stalls selling snacks dotted the paths. Brand new sturdy houses, some front doors still adorned with red-draped good luck signs, lined the new streets of the village.
Looking at the bustling daily life in Qingquan today, it's hard to recall what it was like two years ago, when 98 per cent of houses in the village, under Mianzhu city , were destroyed by the May 12 earthquake. The disaster's enormous toll of nearly 90,000 men, women and children shook the world, with vast swathes of Sichuan reduced to a flattened grey landscape of dirt and rubble.
Qingquan today is a combination of three villages. A series of landslides made it structurally unsafe to rebuild houses in two of the villages uphill from Qingquan, Hongyan and Shaba . So 760 people moved down to live in Qingquan, pushing its population to 2,344.
Liang Kaiquan, 61, was among those who started a new life in the new Qingquan village. "My old house [uphill] was built in the 1970s. I'd lived there for 25 years and there wasn't any water supply to the house," he said. Most homes in his neighbourhood had been built in the 1970s or '80s, with the newest ones in the '90s. None survived the quake.
Liang, like many others, endured the hardship of emergency accommodation, built of wooden boards and plastic sheeting, for nine months after the quake. During the winter, the temperature inside was as low as one degree Celsius and icy winds would cut through the walls.
This was when the South China Morning Post's Homes for Hope initiative was launched, in March 2009, with the objective of building quake-resistant homes and infrastructure in Mianzhu and Majiaxiang.
The Post appealed to its readers for donations to the Homes for Hope fund. A fund-raising gala dinner was also held on the first anniversary of the quake, with Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen as a guest. The total raised for Homes for Hope was HK$16.1 million, with the top donations from the Hong Kong government, Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Morning Star Resources, Kerry Holdings and Aedas Architects.
The funds were put to use immediately. Villagers in Qingquan were each given construction materials worth 12,000 yuan (HK$13,650) from the Homes for Hope fund. Together with a subsidy of 16,000 to 22,000 yuan from the central government and contributions from their own pockets, they were able to build 980 quake-resistant homes. By March this year, all villagers had settled into their new homes.
Despite the hardship he has endured, Liang looks on the bright side. "Now I can walk downtown and it's more convenient for me to buy groceries and run errands... now all I want is good health and a happy life."
Liang is a member of a group of villagers responsible for monitoring the reconstruction progress, and he is confident in the quality of the new houses. "I've been watching carefully," he said.
Once the houses and infrastructure were completed, the village began developing at a speedy pace, according to party branch secretary Tan Shaojun.
Tourism has become one of its fastest growing sectors. This year was the 12th anniversary of the Pear Blossom Festival. In past years, 60,000 visitors was the norm, but this year 100,000 turned up, thanks to the publicity brought by the village's reconstruction, she said.
"They haven't just come to have a look at the flowers. They've also come to see the houses," she said. All the houses in new Qingquan were rebuilt in the same style, with green tiles and white walls, the traditional style in the western part of Sichuan.
Integrating the three villages has brought other challenges. Villagers from Hongyan and Shaba up the hill are having to learn more considerate and neighbourly habits. Tan remarked: "We've been teaching them not to leave rubbish outside their homes. In the past, they just threw things down the hills next to their houses."
After visiting new Qingquan, SCMP Group chairman Dr David Pang Ding-jung said: "Reconstruction of homes is just the first step for improvement of villagers' lives.
"Without the earthquake, it would have taken villagers three decades to bring their homes up to the current standards.
"After the earthquake, the first and most pressing thing to do was to provide homeless people with safe, earthquake-proof houses.
"But that's not enough. They need more than just four walls. When all the bricks and mortar have been laid, we need to provide them with the opportunities to rebuild their lives," Pang said.
Now that reconstruction in Mianzhu has largely been completed, the second phase of the Homes for Hope disbursement is being used to fund reconstruction of infrastructure in Jiuzhaigou . There the focus is on building roads, a water supply, a solar heating system and a medical clinic in Majiaxiang village. The work, which will benefit 500 villagers, is due to be finished by August.
The two Homes for Hope reconstruction projects were among a number that were fortunate to gain approval from the Government Trust Fund in Support of Reconstruction in the Sichuan Earthquake Stricken Areas. This fund received a HK$9 billion injection from the Legislative Council.
As of this month, the trust fund has committed HK$8.58 billion and HK$270 million respectively to support 151 and 34 reconstruction projects undertaken by the Hong Kong government and nongovernmental organisations based in the city.
The white blossoms in Qingquan bear witness to the fact that where there is help, there is hope. "The finished houses funded by Homes for Hope convey to us that Hong Kong people care about Sichuan people," the Development Bureau said.
Caption: The chaos after the 2008 quake.