Red Cross fixes schools and brings water to remote villages

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Children at Baichao Primary School in Guangyuan Prefecture. Their school was reconstructed with support from the Red Cross Society of China after being damaged in the earthquake and now they are living in a brand new dormitory building too. Rob Few/IFRC/p

By Francis Markus, IFRC, in Guangyuan, China

Diary III - As we swoop down the hilly roads to the little plateau housing Baichao Primary School, it feels as though I am visiting familiar territory.

It’s only a year since I was here before to talk to the children who submitted the best entries to a photo competition organised by the American Red Cross. I can see the familiar faces. But the place looks as though it’s made considerable progress since 2010, with the school buildings at least on the outside completely finished.

When I was last here, the children and teachers were still in temporary accommodation, but now they’ve moved into brand new dormitory blocks.

I think this place, located in Guangyuan Prefecture, is a good gauge for progress in one of the truly remote areas of the disaster-hit region. It’s so out of the way that the new headmaster says, “the children up here are much purer than those living lower down, because they don’t have as much influence from the internet, etc…”

In fact in 2010, many of the students we spoke to said their families were still living in tents.

Now, thankfully, they have moved into new homes. Although these were too far away to visit.

Perhaps not all of them are that far. Because in one village in which we started our day’s trip, families said their children attend the school we’re just visiting. In the village, houses are soon to be supplied with clean and safe drinking water for the first time, piped to taps in their kitchens, under an American Red Cross-supported project.

In another of the project villages, on lower ground, things are even further advanced, with local Red Cross workers saying that the water coming through the purification plant and to local people’s taps will be imminently available for use as soon as the government has checked it and declared it suitable for consumption.

Once that’s done, it will be a huge boost to people’s quality of life.

As she washes vegetables at the kitchen tap, Wang Fenglan, a woman in her 30’s with a lively smile, explains: “We used to get water from the well, which was a real nuisance. If there was a drought, we had no water and had to carry it from all over the place.”

“Now that we have this water, it’s really great, you just have to open the tap and it’s really convenient to do anything like washing vegetables or clothes.”

These Red Cross water projects – there is another nearing completion with IFRC support, in Mianzhu prefecture – are an investment in the long term improvement of life for people in the communities.

We’re always talking about ‘building back better’ after a disaster like this, which is easy to see the need for; but is harder to achieve. Still, we owe it to those kids to make our best efforts, and to help reduce the diasdavantages they face in life.

Fortunately, projects like these are a step in the right direction, and a good investment in their lives, and a better future.