Transforming livelihoods five years after the Sichuan quake

تم النشر: 11 مايو 2013 13:59 CET

By Kevin Xia, IFRC, in Mianzhu

The province of Sichuan in south-western China hit the headlines in April with a magnitude 7 earthquake, which killed nearly 200 people and made thousands more homeless.

The timing of this earthquake was significant: it struck just before the fifth anniversary of the earthquake on 12 May 2008, which claimed more than 80,000 lives and destroyed more than 90 per cent of homes in some areas. In response to the 2008 earthquake, the Red Cross Red Crescent supported the rebuilding of homes for hundreds of thousands of people, as well as schools and hospitals, and provided psychosocial support for those affected. And work continues today to provide vocational training and micro loans that are helping transform people’s lives.

With her village house was destroyed by the magnitude 8 earthquake, and her husband killed in a traffic accident a year later, life for Luo Zhongyan seemed bleak and her options were limited.

However, training and a micro loan from the Red Cross Society of China changed all that and Ms Luo, now 43, has turned things around – not just for herself, but for several of her neighbours too. She used her newly-acquired skills and the financial support provided by the project to open a small sewing workshop with nine female staff from her community and nearby villages.

“I would have had little choice but to go to Chengdu (the provincial capital) as a migrant worker if this project had not been here and so would my employees,” she says. Luo Zhongyan is from Sanhe village in Mianzhu County, one of the counties that was most affected by the earthquake five years ago.

“This year I hope to get more customers. The micro loan, although not a huge amount, makes me confident as I can use it to buy more raw materials, pay salaries and sell our products to more distant areas by hiring delivery vans,” she says pointing to her sewing machines with a big smile. Many of her neighbours have used the micro loans to raise livestock such as cows, pigs and chickens, but Luo Zhongyan was determined to try something different – clothing.

“Now my workshop is running well. We make different types of uniforms for various customers, such as factories and schools and they fetch a good price. That’s why we haven’t had to become migrant labourers – because we can make a living here.”

The turning point came in May 2011, when the Red Cross Society of China and the IFRC began organizing vocational training for survivors in the earthquake-affected areas, in a project supported by the British Red Cross and Japanese Red Cross Societies. Training and expertise is given in soil management techniques, efficient water usage, crop rotation, sewing, kitchen gardening, bee-keeping, fish farming and rearing pigs.

Even using the skills she learned from the training and also the compensation of 50,000 Chinese yuan (about 8,100 US dollars or 6,200 euros) she received after her husband’s death, Luo Zhongyan faced many challenges.

“It was not as easy as I thought. I put in all my money and did not have money to pay for salaries, raw materials and transportation costs.”

As a single mother, she was told she couldn’t get a loan from a commercial bank. She almost decided to give up and head off to make a living as a migrant worker, except that would have meant being separated from her young daughter.

Fortunately, more help arrived with the news that she could qualify for a Red Cross micro loan aimed at particularly vulnerable people in the community, with her brother-in-law acting as a guarantor. She was able to apply for an initial loan of 20,000 Chinese yuan, which she then repaid, before applying for a further 20,000 Chinese yuan at the end of 2012.

She hopes to expand the workshop still further, providing more jobs for local women and adds: “I also want to give some support to the elderly in our community.”

The Red Cross project has seen nearly 7,000 people receive training – including 1,400 disabled people – in practical vocational skills. The micro loans have benefited nearly 474 families.

"Although the scale of this project is not large, it has made a huge difference to people’s lives, allowing them to build sustainable livelihoods," says Baktiar Mambetov, the East Asia regional sustainable development delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

A further county in Sichuan has been chosen for the continuation of the project and, after a magnitude 7 earthquake struck the Lushan area of the province on 20 April 2013, “We are also considering implementing a similar project, especially vocational and skills. Training is there to help survivors recover,” says Mambetov.