By David Ferguson
China.org.cn correspondent reporting from Sichuan
Small groups of foreign experts with specialised skills have given their support to the search and rescue effort following a devastating earthquake attacked southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12. Dutch Group Signi Zoekhonden (Signi Search dogs) spent a week in Hanwang helping local people to identify where victims had been buried in the rubble.
The Signi Team – Esther, Saad and Janette, along with their driver and guide and Search Dog Finder.
"We had been trying to get Myanmar for days", says Saad Attia. "Two times our Visa Applications had been refused. Then we had a short job to do in Switzerland, and immediately on our return we heard news of the Sichuan earthquake. They were talking of victim counts of up to 50,000. We contacted the Chinese Embassy in the Netherlands straight away, and they told us to come over with our papers and photos. Within four days we were on the ground in Sichuan."
The "We" to whom Saad refers are Signi Zoekhonden, a Dutch dog search team whose speciality is the recovery of crime, accident, and disaster victims.
Esther Van Neerbos, Janette Kruit, and Saad himself are three selfless volunteers who dedicate their free time to the relief of suffering throughout the world. With their team of highly skilled dogs they have provided support to relief efforts in recent earthquakes in Morocco and Pakistan, in Sri Lanka and Thailand after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, in the USA following Hurricane Katrina, and now to China in the aftermath of the Sichuan Earthquake.
"We got great support from the Chinese Embassy", says Saad. "We had our Visas in a day. Then all we had to do was sort out our tickets and get over here. I think we arrived on Friday…"
Once on the ground, things were a little trickier. Signi choose not to be affiliated with any of the international disaster relief organisations, as they feel their freedom gives them added flexibility and autonomy. They tend to use informal networks, making contact with the Police and the Army on the ground, and working together with them.