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Giant quake proves Chinese NGOs' rising force
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by Xinhua writer Gong Yidong

Two days after the May 12 earthquake of 8.0 magnitude on the Richter scale jolted Sichuan Province, southwest China, the millionaire Wang Wenzhong headed to the devastated zone to help with relief work.

Owner of a huge leather shop in Beijing, the 50-year-old Wang acknowledged that he has no expertise in disaster relief, but it is "no impediment to helping the needy," he said.

Armed with Wang were 14 villagers and 10 college students from Liangshuming Rural Construction Center, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to assisting village development.

Time did not allow the team to get logistically prepared. Lessons like first aid were taught on the flight to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan. Relief supplies of 926 sets of cotton-padded clothes, 70 tents, and 2,000 quilts, were transferred by three trucks Wang hired.

They had planned to directly go to Mianyang City, a hardest-hit area, but the road was blocked and no suitable vehicles were available.

Wang and his team adjusted their plan and advanced to Pengzhou County and Xiang'e Town of Dujiangyan City, where 90 percent of homes destroyed, with 400 deaths and 15,000 survivors. So the team set up a rescue station in the town.

Over the past two weeks, the team helped set up more than 100 tents in Xiang'e. They raised funds, visited victims, distributed goods and comforted the young and the old. They worked on the center's principle that the villagers could rehabilitate their own community with a bit of help.

"We help with the small things, but it requires patience," said Bai Yali, a volunteer. For every meal, each villager is allocated a bow of rice. "We must keep order to prevent chaos or quarrels. People are irritable after the disaster."

Zhou Zhongmin, a retired technician traveling across Sichuan investigating rural education when the earthquake struck, agreed. "Disaster relief doesn't need just big gestures." At a rescue station, Zhou and other volunteers boiled 40 pots of water one day for more than 1,000 victims. "They were desperately thirsty."

Behind them is an expanding network of groups engaging people from all walks of life.

On May 12, eight Beijing-based NGOs initiated the "Small actions plus many people make a big difference" program.

By May 18, Green Earth Volunteers, one of the participating organizations, had raised 46,097 RMB (6,585 U.S. dollars) and bought large quantities of daily necessities, including six boxes of the spicy bean sauce popular in Sichuan cuisine. "These things may seem insignificant, but they are what NGOs are good at," said Wang Yongchen, director of the environmental organization.

She noticed that China's NGOs are adapting to deal with challenges they have seldom experienced before.

On May 13, Roots and Shoots, 1KG, NGOCN, and other NGOs decided to coordinate their quake relief efforts. "We're small NGOs, covering different areas. Only through cooperation can we do things efficiently," said An Zhu, director of 1KG.

Ideas were quickly turned into actions. The next day, the joint office of the May 12 Concerted Action of Civil Organizations was opened in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, to oversee nationwide endeavors.

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