Survivors seek new livelihoods in transformed landscape

By Francis Markus in Jiulong, Sichuan

Diary 2 - I can hardly believe it, when our driver points out to me the low hill, with rows of neat, cream-tiled houses on top of it. “That was where Emergency Response Units and the Red Cross Base Camp were set up, immediately after the earthquake,” he says.

It takes me back three years, away from this vision of trees in blossom and farm house restaurants and homes, to a landscape of stark ruins and mud covering my boots, where our teams had struggled to set up tents and equipment.

Now, in this village of Jiulong, people have rebuilt their homes, with support from the Red Cross Red Crescent and they are well and truly setting about rebuilding their livelihoods as well.

Take 49-year-old chicken farmer Tang Fuxiu. When we visit her pens on the outskirts of the village, braving the barking dogs, we find she only has a few dozen birds left. The rest, more than a thousand, had just been bought in the previous days by local farmhouse restaurants.

Tang Fuxiu had done some chicken farming before the earthquake. But last September, she attended a Red Cross Red Crescent livelihoods training session, which gave her added technical knowledge, on such areas as preparing fermentation beds to neutralise the chicken waste.

Life has not been easy for her. “At first, I didn’t want to go on living,” she says, having lost her husband and her son-in-law in the earthquake. Now though, her main preoccupation is how to make her business bigger and better.

She hopes to access a loan under the micro-finance component of the Red Cross Society of China programme, supported by the IFRC, to help build a more permanent structure for her chickens.

We visit a farmhouse restaurant, whose owner, Shuai Yuhua, 45, has taken Red Cross training to help her improve her cooking and customer service. Her cooking doesn’t taste bad when she prepares us a simple lunch of noodles and chicken with potatoes.

"Since the training we have many more customers," she says. "More people like our food and some come back regularly. Before, our food was not as nice."

In the past, Shuai had just two or three tables of customers a day, but her restaurant is now so popular she has had to hire extra workers.

Our afternoon is spent looking in on a Start or Improve Your Business training in a nearby township. When we arrive, the trainees are going through the various certificates which you need to be able to run a business legally in China.

We chat with one of the students, Wang Dingfeng, who is a woman in her late 30’s who also lost her husband and was disabled by the earthquake – one of more than 700 disabled people among the trainees. She is doing odd jobs in a petrol station at the moment, but hopes to start a business raising chickens, if she can get the start-up capital.

The Postal Savings Bank of China, which administers the micro-credit loans programme under Red Cross supervision, says it will help people like her find a guarantor so that she can apply to borrow the 20,000 CNY maximum sum. Her hopes for a better future are pinned on being able to take the next crucial step to rebuilding her livelihood.