Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chinese Earthquake: How to Help

I'm an avid NPR listener.

This past week when I heard news on the BBC of the earthquake in Chengdu in the Sichuan province I thought, "Isn't that where the NPR people were going to report on the massive changes in China?" Before traveling there, they described the wonderful cuisine of the region, the burgeoning population, and the economic upheaval, and I was quite interested to hear their reports from the area.

I'm sure these NPR reporters were not expecting to experience an earthquake firsthand. However, they have been working diligently to get the story of the thousands of people impacted by the quake out to the rest of the world. It's heart wrenching to hear a parent's sobs when they talk about their missing children, describe collapsed homes, and tell of trapped family members. I only hope that their reporting helps inspire people to give, or to travel to the area and help.

The Chinese government's response to the situation contrasts sharply with the response of Myanmar to the cyclones. Once upon a time in a not too recent past, China would have prevented reporters from traveling to the epicenter of the disaster.

However, this time they are being much more open, perhaps having realized that being open will get them more aid. In addition, like I mentioned before, the upcoming Olympics are likely playing a role in this. The country is under increased scrutiny and don't want additional criticism for their humanitarian mistakes.

If you are interested in volunteering to help the earthquake victims in China, consider the following:

International Organizations
  • Red Cross - Provides disaster relief
  • Mercy Corps - Works within "disasters, conflicts, chronic poverty and instability to unleash the potential of people who can win against nearly impossible odds"
  • Feed the Children - Provides food to children and families around the world
  • Peace Corps - Places volunteers in two year positions to serve the USA in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries
  • ORBIS International - Works to build local capacity and develop long-term, sustainable solutions to the tragedy of unnecessary blindness
China-Specific Non-Profits
  • Organize a small fundraising event. With a few friends, contact a local bar or restaurant. Convince the owners to give you deals on food and or beverages, charge a $10 cover fee, and promote the heck out of it to your friends and family, reminding them of the people impacted by the event. Donate the funds to a larger organization.
  • If your employer has a dress code, organize a "$5 for China so you can wear jeans to work" day. Donate the funds.
  • Follow Fred's example - collect donations to do something ridiculous, like cutting your hair into a mullet, fasting for a week, or eating 20 chili peppers.

Don't forget to vote daily for the Volunteer Boston Blog as the "Best Hobby Blog"!

First photo courtesy of a Chinese message board:
Second photo courtesy of the NPR blog on the reporters' Chengdu journey


Anonymous said...

The IRS hit me hard in taxes this year $20,000. I am single, need a wife and have a new home and willing to house a woman and children of the earthquake victums if they can help me out too with my financial problems cause I am a victum of what is happening in America right now. contact me at

TawniAline said...

Maybe a strange question (though i'd say not nearly as strange as the last lol)- but I was wondering if you knew of any way to actually GO there and get involved with rebuilding or aid efforts? Any organizations that would be willing to take new volunteers over- I've already contacted red cross about beginning volunteer work with them- but it's my understanding that I'll probably be doing mostly local work- which is fine- i just didn't know if there was a way to help disaster relief efforts first hand as a newbie. Thanks for any advice you have

casey @ OYFP said...

@Tawni - Yes, the last question is a bit strange, yes?

I believe with the way disaster relief volunteering works, you have to be pre-trained and on an organization's list. Essentially you're primed and ready to go in the case of any disaster.

If this is something you're interested in longer term, consider volunteering with Doctors without Borders. They need medical and non-medical personnel, and regularly have information sessions at major cities around the country. They're having one in Chicago on June 10. (I saw from your blogger profile that you're in Indiana.)

Alternatively, consider participating in an international volunteer program such as the Foundation for Sustainable Development, which I can personally recommend. I spent three months in Nicaragua with them, actually working with Nicaraguans. Of course, it's not necessarily disaster relief, but there's desperate need for help all over the world even when there's no disaster.

Good luck finding an opportunity!

Jacqueline said...

My question is similar to Tawni's. I came upon your blog because I wanted to look for an organization that will send me over to Sichuan sometime this june or july to help with relief efforts, not necessarily disaster, but sustaining efforts/clean up etc. I'm still in college but this is something I want to do and participate in this summer? Do you know which organization I can go to for this?

Casey said...

Hi Jacqueline,

I think volunteering for the summer in China would be a GREAT experience. I would recommend looking around at different programs and comparing the costs and benefits, and talking to people who have worked with the programs in the past. Yes - it costs money to volunteer. Think of it as a donation.

Like I said in my comment to Tawni, I would recommend the Foundation for Sustainable Development, though they don't currently have programs in China. You get great value for your donation, and the knowledge that most of the money actually goes back to the community in which you're volunteering.

If you would really like to volunteer in China, consider Cross Cultural Solutions. There innumerable programs where you can volunteer in China to teach English, but I am sure there are other opportunities as well.

No matter what program you choose, you should make sure to quickly do the research so you can go. It may be more practical to go during your winter break as that will allow more time for planning.

Good luck!

Echo said...

gqFirsthand experience from local friends there in Chengdu. Foreign aides in any forms other than monetory are still not allowed with excused such as "not safe there" "temporarily no access to the fore most frontline" "will centralized and organized all aid of supplies...."...etc. The Army is dispatched, I heard, and doing hella great job. It is still very traumatic and messy situation in the towns of the epicenter. Chengdu 90Km away is not much better, though damage is minimal in comparison. Local grassroot organizations are trying their best distrubuting goods, supplies and medication to help the victims. Volunteers including professionals and ordinaries from all over the country swamp Chengdu. Without centralized organization (which the goverment insist to have contral over), most volunteers are pretty much doing nothing and helping no victims.

There are plenty of rebuild to do in the future. It's estimated organizing effort may take into place in about 3 months, by then, chances of volunteering and rebuilding the community is much better. I know there is already grassroot group organizing sustainable housing projects.

The project is organized by a chinese publisher and his friends, leaded by a Taiwanese architect. If you know Chinese or have friends who can translate for you, check his blog:

Anonymous said...

I`m located in Romania,European Union .I`m a single 53,living alone in a big flat, working like librarian.I was very impressed about China peopel who is suffering after the terrible desaster.I`m not a rich man but I`ll could help an orphan girl/boy to came here and continue to study .A responsable child who wants fight for his/her career,to study and to look serioselly, with dignity and hope to the future.

The Cretan said...

i had the same exact questions as tawnialine and jacqueline. i googled china relief efforts and all i found were newsreels. then i came upon your blog and clicked on the sites you mentioned but didn't find anything for hands-on help in the epicenter that wasn't employment or internship related. but thank u for ur helpful post.

casey @ OYFP said...

@the cretan - Yes, a lot of people want to help... but in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, it is most efficient to have trained personnel in place. I would recommend hooking up with the Doctors without Borders - get trained so in the future you can help. And no, you don't have to be a doctor. :-)

I would also keep an eye out over the coming months. My guess is that more volunteer opportunities will become available as NGOs start to organize relief trips. Perhaps consider just a two week "internship", but know that you'll have to pay your own way.

If you're interested in helping in the USA, there are still relief and rebuilding trips going down to areas hit by Katrina:

Rebuilding Together: New Orleans
Rebuilding St. Bernard's Parish
Habitat for Humanity New Orleans

Good luck!

Divyesh said...

Hello Sir,

I am Divyesh Ardeshana from INDIA.
I am very much Intersted to become Volutneer in CHINA's Earthquake.I am free till 21st June,2008.Any work for helping people Please Inform me on my e-mail id :- I am ready to come their.

I am not Capable to Come Their and Help because I am MBA student.I have Limited Pocketmoney.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering can the 18 and youngers help in the earthquake in China? My family is going to China in the summer and I was wondering if i could help.

casey @ OYFP said...

Hi Anonymous: I'm sure people aged younger than 18 can volunteer. However, if you're going to be there a limited time consider doing a clothing or supplies drive in your home country before your trip, and then shipping the donations to your hotel in China. Then you can give them directly to people who need them.

Alternatively, try contacting some of the organizations I listed in the entry. They may have direct volunteer opportunities.

Good luck finding a way to help! Remember to perservere.