China is modernising very fast, and the pace of change is truly staggering. But is everyone feeling the changes?
In Sichuan there are still over 6 million people living under the official poverty line of £1 per day.
In the mountainous regions that reach from the Sichuan Basin up to the Tibetan plateau there have been two devastating earthquakes in recent years, the Wenchuan Earthquake of 2008 in which 70,000 people lost their lives, and the Ya’an earthquake of last year, where a few hundred were killed but many homes were lost or damaged.
The rugged mountainous regions are cold in winter, and not easily accessible along dangerous mountain roads. Some villagers from these areas never come to the county town, let alone the provincial capital of the mega city Chengdu.
A British Charity called DORS is supporting the rural poor in these regions, by working directly with impoverished communities to help them improve their living conditions.
Director Rose Acock said ‘ I started DORS in 1996 in response to the rural poverty I saw, and the ideas that local people had themselves to change their lives. I was amazed at how resourceful Chinese people are when faced with adversity, and how they weigh up and make decisions that are best for themselves and their families. I believed that the communities are the best people to decide what help was needed, and set about getting support for the projects closest to their hearts.’
Since then DORS has worked with 50 villages and over 80,000 people. DORS has implemented integrated community projects to bring clean piped water to each households, over half a million trees have been planted for fuel or cash crops, rebuilt over 2000 stoves that use less fuelwood, and have set up micro credit for families to develop livestock. DORS has bought grain grinders, built roads and paths, connected electricity and supported children to complete their schooling.
Hot meals for cold children
In Nimei Township, DORS provided a cook and food for the school to provide a hot meal at lunchtime for children. The children were walking up to 2 hours along steep mountain paths to attend school, and often were not able to bring any food with them to have during the day. DORS arranged with the school to provide hot school lunches so the children could study well in the afternoons. Having inadequate nutrition is a cause of stunting in poor areas of China, where children do not develop as well as others both in physical and mental development. This project of providing school meals is a short term fix, whilst DORS works with the villages to increase production and income so that families can provide sufficient nutrition at home.
Water for dry villages
Where villages have inadequate water supply, DORS has helped them to purchase piping and build water storage tanks, and connect each households to the system. In some of these villages people, mainly women were carrying water part of the year from hillside streams far from their homes. Having a water supply in their courtyards is much more convenient, hygienic for food preparation and sanitation, and sufficient water for livestock as well as people. This kind of project is always the first choice of villagers if their water supply is inadequate.
Rebuilding after the earthquake
DORS has purchased brick making machines for some villages whose houses were damaged during the earthquake last year. The houses worst affected were those belonging to the poorest members of the communities, as their houses were still constructed of mud and not cement or bricks.
A DORS spokesperson said: “We are targeting assistance at the most needy. We are plannning to start another house building project for people in Yingjing County who are suffering very poor accommodation and overcrowding, to rebuild their houses with proper kitchens and flushing toilets We are seeking £500 per households for 100 households to assist with the rebuild.”
Get away from that smoke
The old stoves used in the area were very smoky and used a lot of fuel wood. When we talked with the villagers they told us how scarce fuel wood was, and how long it took to collect. DORS has a local engineer who shows local people how to build fuel efficient stoves, that use one third of the fuel, that have less smoke in the house, and that have tiles on top for a clean surface for food preparation. These stoves have been very popular with rural poor. The chimney keeps the smoke away so women are not sitting feeding the fire and inhaling wood and crop residue smoke, which reduces some respiration diseases and eye problems. Children are not growing up in smoky houses, and the house walls will not all become black from the smoke. This project builds local people’s capacity in learning how to build with bricks and build a stove, and the local people then go on to build many stoves in the village. DORS provides the training and part of the materials costs and the households provide the rest. So far we have built over 2000 stoves.
Bringing better harvests
DORS has developed forestry projects with villagers to plant and graft walnut trees. The walnut crop is a good cash crop for people who live in remote areas. Soft fruits are not suitable as the spoil on route to markets, and are damaged by the bumpy roads. Walnuts are a high value crop. DORS has supported part of the costs of saplings, and provided many training sessions for local people on how to manage the trees, how to avoid pests, and how to graft higher yielding varieties. Now the incomes of those villages are improving substantially.
DORS is seeking donations to continue our work. We have a team of 7 local staff in our office in Sichuan, all of whom are Chinese. DORS was awarded the National Freidnship Award in 1999 in Beijing, and Rose met with Premier Zhu Rongji. Rose was also awarded the MBE for services to poverty alleviation in China in 2002.
DORS wants to continue to support the families in Sichuan living in the poor and remote regions to improve their lives and incomes.