Shanghai professionals make a difference in Sichuan

The volunteers spend seven days with students at a school rebuilt by CapitaLand China after the 2008 quake

Issue: Dec 2009

Students welcome the CapitaLand mascot, CapitaFrog with their renowned Sichuan hospitality
Students welcome the CapitaLand Green mascot, CapitaFrog with their warm Sichuan hospitality

There is arguably not a single Chinese who will not remember May 12th, 2008, the day the devastating earthquake - 7.8 on the Richter scale - hit its southwestern province of Sichuan, killing more than 68,000 people. The tragedy did not merely affect those who lived where it occurred, it also brought the Chinese in other provinces together to help the Sichuan people recover from the earthquake.

Amelia Wang, 42, was in her Shanghai law firm, when like thousands across the bustling metropolis, she was evacuated from the building where she worked on May 12th, 2008. High-rises in Shanghai were shaken by the powerful tremors ripping through locales 40 hours away by train.

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Volunteer Amelia Wang teaching the students environmental awareness and first aid

Wang recalls how in the subsequent days, she, like millions of other Chinese followed closely the rescue and recovery efforts. For many, the urge to go there to lend a hand was held back only by worries that their presence would hamper the work of those more experienced in situations like this. Thus, where they could, they donated cash and rations.

It would be more than a year before Wang finally got to visit Sichuan to help in the recovery process. As the Secretary-General of Shanghai's Women Lawyers Association, she and four others in the organisation joined a seven-day volunteer expedition organised by CapitaLand that coincided with a week when she had no court hearings scheduled.

Responding to the call

 

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Learning English in a fun way

When CapitaLand China first issued the call for volunteers in October at its Raffles City Shanghai mall, more than 11,000 people from the city responded. The plan was for them to serve as volunteer teachers at CapitaLand Muchuan Green Hope School, the first of six schools rebuilt by CapitaLand after the quake. The aim of organising this expedition was to give an opportunity for members of the public as well as CapitaLand employees to take part in community service activities.

The final 13 public volunteers were selected after a round of public online voting and grading by a panel of professionals experienced in teaching and volunteer work. Together with Wang’s team of five and eight CapitaLand staff, a total of 26 volunteers headed to Muchuan county in November for the teaching expedition.

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Students being taught Chinese Kunqu Opera by Kunqu artiste, Zhang Jun

Wang taught Environmental Awareness and First Aid to the students. While she had gone with the intention to do something to benefit the community, she returned instead with an immense respect for them. The teachers working tirelessly despite their paltry pay moved her, just as the sincerity of the students who greeted her each time they met touched her. When it came time for the volunteers to leave, the children had grown so attached they pleaded with them not to go.

Cheng Dongping, a 35-year-old instructor, recounted how there was not a single dry eye in the room when the volunteers finally said goodbye. Cheng himself spent his time there conducting a short course in digital photography for the sixth-graders. With this new skill set, the 13-year-olds went out capturing facets of their everyday lives with the unique perspectives of children, and put up an exhibition at the end of the week. Cheng remembers how sobering it was to see the pictures of their living conditions at home, as families still struggled to get their lives back together.

Rebuilding lives

The rebuilding will take more time than that which has passed. Many in the most affected areas continue to live in tents, but at least here in Muchuan county, the children have a school where they can attend lessons.

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Students putting up their photographs for the exhibition
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The children earnestly learning photography skills from volunteer Cheng Dongping
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Volunteers have brought sunshine to the lives of students

The steel-to-concrete ratio in this new building was increased to ensure its sturdiness, and the use of recycled materials was maximised to minimise its environmental impact. Designed by three architecture students from the northern city of Tianjin, the new school is forward-looking, much like its name - “CapitaLand Green Hope School”. It was built with funds from CapitaLand’s philanthropic arm, the CapitaLand Hope Foundation, which has donated 5 million RMB (about S$1 million) towards disaster relief after the earthquake.

Musing about the expedition afterwards, many of the volunteers consider it time well-spent. For most, this trip easily took up at least half of their annual leave, since most Chinese workers have only seven to 10 days off work each year. Yet in exchange, they say they were rewarded with the warmth they found among the community they visited, and look back fondly on the camaraderie they found on the team.

Where they once saw anguish and agony, loss and destruction coming at them from their television screens, the volunteers are now witnessing how life here in Sichuan is slowly getting better. Together with CapitaLand China, they did their bit to help the province recover from the worst disaster to hit their country in recent times.

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