Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Postcard from Beichuan by Scott Wong

The following is a letter from my dear friend Scott, who recently took a trip to the Sichuan Province in China. This was the main epicenter of May's devastating earthquake. I found his words to be impassioned and powerfully moving, personalizing this disaster that most of us cannot even fathom. Below, I share his letter with you. He's included photos as well, which depict the incomprehensible loss of life and home, but also the sustained spirits of the survivors.

If you are so inspired, please seek ways you can be of service, whether by sending donations (perhaps via Children's Hope International), offering prayers, or sending healing energy. At the very least, perhaps you can pass this blog along to continue awareness that many of our brothers and sisters still need a huge amount of help.

:: Lokah Samasthah Sukhino Bhavantu ::
:: May all beings everywhere be happy and free ::

Leah xo

I have just returned from an emotional trip to Sichuan Province, the main epicenter of the recent May earthquake in China. I was invited by a close local Chinese friend of mine to see the earthquake damaged areas and to assist him in a few days of volunteering. He himself has been stationed there for over a month, overseeing a daily series of "outward bound" style programs and activities for the earthquake affected youth.

A friend and I met up with Jia Guo Peng in Mianyang after flying 3 hours from Beijing. It took about 1.5 hours by car to reach Beichuan, not including the amount of time to switch to a locally hired van who is unrestricted to enter the quake area. Beichuan is a remote area in Sichuan that became well known after the earthquake for being one of the most heavily damaged counties. As we approached the neighboring villages, it became clear from the roadside refugee camps and leftover landslides that 2 months after the earthquake, the infrastructure had yet to see any improvement. Before reaching the actual villages, we stopped at some of the refugee camps where thousands of families were living in less than ideal temporary tents.

Upon reaching Beichuan, we were greeted by our local tour guides, some high school students who Jia Guo Peng had taught recently and were home for summer vacation to be with their families. As we walked through the piles of rubble and remnants of family possessions, I tried hard to imagine what this village looked like before when all the buildings were standing. It is estimated up to 10,000 people died in Beichuan. The entire area looked like a scene from a war zone that was just bombarded. With less than fluent Chinese, I was given detailed accounts of how this school was here and this many students died, or how these parents lost their daughter or son, or if you were lucky, the entire family survived but everything else was gone. In order to keep a positive spirit during our visit, I tried not to think about the fact that these people had very little before and now have even less.

Moving inward, refugee camps were spread everywhere and fortunately families have clean water to drink and food seems to be readily available. But the estimated time to rebuild the county is 3 years from now and therefore these tents, plotted on simple dirt and mud, will be many people's homes for a long time to come. The Government is providing immediate assistance, in part by doling out 10 RMB (a bit more than 1 US$) a day to help the victims of the earthquake and by providing safe and temporary shelter. Some people have taken it in their own hands and are digging out re-usable bricks from the rubble to help re-assemble other buildings and homes.

But in all of this darkness, there is a significant amount of hope that exists in the community and particularly the young people who are becoming accustomed to this new way of life. Outside volunteers like Jia Guo Peng, as well as some of the other local volunteers are everyday heroes, helping to bring back a sense of normality and community to the lives of younger and more vulnerable people. The students who showed us around demonstrated immense courage and maturity to deal with the earthquake and its aftermath and make-shift schools have been put in place to educate them. Business was brisk for those few stores and restaurants still operating. Spiritually, the community is rebuilding and I'm happy to see their determination to move forward.

For many of us, we have largely left this news to rest, desensitized to the images on our TV and internet and all too ready to move on to some other headline news story like the Olympics. However, I am one of the fortunate ones, reminded that there is still much to be done.

As many of you are aware and have seen days after the earthquake, more than 70,000 people, many of whom were children, died in this natural disaster. Some of you have kindly responded to the earthquake by providing donations. Thank you, if you have.

There are certain trips and experiences that shape our lives for the better; this one has left a deep and lasting impression on me. For some of my trip photos including brief captions, please click on the link below and run through the slideshow.

Regards from Beijing



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