NING'ER, 4th March 2008: Fifty families have received a much-needed boost from Habitat for Humanity China in rebuilding their homes after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the south-western province of Yunnan last summer.
Project coordinator Windy Xie from HFH China's Yunnan project office was recently in Miaoshan village in badly affected Ning'er county to present 5,000 renminbi (US$700) in cash donations and 5,000 renminbi as an interest-free micro loan to ease each family's financial burden. The people living in Ning'er, formerly known as Pu'er county, are mostly merchants, farmers and laborers in the cities. This is the Yunnan office's first disaster-response project.
Ning'er was the worst-hit county to be affected by the June 2007 earthquake which struck Yunnan's tea-producing city of Pu'er and its surrounding area. Only three people died in the disaster. But more than 90,000 houses collapsed and a further 270,000 homes were damaged. According to a recent report from the official Xinhua news agency, the Yunnan government has allocated a three-billion renminbi budget to help one million poor families living in dangerous substandard houses to rebuild their homes within 10 years. Each family is supposed to receive 3,000 to 5,000 renminbi of subsidies in reconstruction. The Yunnan government also aims to strengthen all rural homes to make them capable of surviving a magnitude 6.0 earthquake.
For the Miaoshan villagers who had begun rebuilding their houses, Habitat's assistance came at the right time. "Our house was about to be completed but all our money was used up. We had no one to turn to. Then Habitat sent the money over to us, solving our problem. Habitat's gesture warmed our hearts. We all appreciate it a lot,' said villager Li Shaokun with tears in her eyes.
To rebuild a two-story house that costs about 100,000 renminbi, villagers rely on a combination of government subsidy, their own savings, loans from banks or relatives and friends. Habitat's cash donation and interest-free mortgage will go some way to relieve the families' financial burden.
Another villager Qing Changming described Habitat's assistance as "a stuffed bread that fell from heaven" or an unexpected benefit. It was the first time in his 57 years of life that such a good thing happened to him. He said: 'Out of gratitude to the kind-hearted people (Habitat for Humanity), we must complete building our house and improve our agricultural yields.'
While some of the families living nearer the town in Ning'er were able to build two-storey brick-and-cement houses, those in the countryside could only afford wood-and-mud houses. The poor families are the ones who are really in need of help, said Habitat's Xie. She was particularly struck by their sincere smiles and their indomitable spirit in adversity. Xie expressed her desire for Habitat to host volunteer teams to rebuild lives in Ning'er, working together with the affected families to clear debris and complete plastering and flooring work for the second-story of houses.
"We hope to establish the friendship between the locals and the international volunteers through volunteer builds and more and more people will be part of the international movement to create a world where everyone has a proper home to live," said Xie. The first volunteer team to Ning'er is expected in end-April. The Yunnan project office is currently working on a new proposal to assist more families in Ning'er.
The earthquake response project in Yunnan is supported by US$79,700 funds raised by Habitat's Benefit Gala held in Hong Kong last April. That event, organized by HFH China's Hong Kong office and the Benefit Gala committee, raised nearly HK$5 million (US$639,510). Of the total sum raised, another US$91,685 went to a post-flood rehabilitation project in Meizhou municipality in the southern Guangdong province. Habitat has completed 36 houses for flood-affected families in Meizhou and another 31 homes are under construction.
The Ning'er project is made possible by the assistance of the Hong Kong and China authorities - Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and China's Civil Affairs Bureau. Habitat's partners in the project include the Yunnan Provincial Civil Affairs Department, the non-governmental organization Ning'er Women's Federation that helps select Habitat home partners and supervise construction. Repayment of the loan will be made through Ning'er Rural Credit Cooperative.
Habitat first began its operations in 2002 in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. A partnership with the Yunnan Disabled Persons' Federation saw 28 new houses built for leprosy-affected people in Xianghai'an Rehabilitation Village in Luquan county. To date, the Yunnan project office has helped to house more than 250 families and rehabilitate about 50 houses. Habitat also operates two other project offices in the neighboring provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi.
In January 2006, Habitat for Humanity merges its operations in Hong Kong and China into a single entity. While the China programs focus on construction and hosting of volunteer teams, the Hong Kong office concentrates on fundraising, recruiting volunteers for build trips in the Asia-Pacific region and home safety and improvement projects in the territory for the elderly living alone on their own. In the latest partnership with Hong Kong Christian Service and Chan Dang Social Services Foundation, Habitat will be assisting the elderly or families on welfare across Hong Kong to improve their living conditions. The two-year project that starts from mid-2007 will provide subsidies for the purchase of furniture, fixtures and electrical appliances as well as home decorating and maintenance services.