Hong Kong Stars And Korean Volunteers Show Their True Mettle In Habitat’s Post-Earthquake Reconstruction In Sichuan

Habitat To Build At Least 728 Houses And Community Infrastructure In First Phase Of Rebuilding

CHENGDU, 10th March 2009: Awarding winning Hong Kong singer and actress Karen Mok braced cold spring weather to help rebuild homes in earthquake-hit Taizi village in China’s southwestern Sichuan province.

(Clockwise from top left) Hong Kong celebrity Daniel Wu (in green) laying bricks with Habitat’s Hosea Lai and passing bricks to a home partner working on her house. At the end of his build, Wu and his team-mates had a group picture taken with Habitat staff.

(Clockwise from top left) Hong Kong singer/actress Karen Mok (in grey jacket) joining the Korean volunteers in passing bricks and then trying her hand at brick-laying. She also helped prepare lunch and ate with a local family.

(Top) A house that is nearly half completed.(Bottom) Skilled workers putting up the wood frame of an earthquake-resilient house in Taizi village.

Qing Ming (right) and his wife Zhou Juyu have made concrete plans for their future.

Mok was on site building a few days after another Hong Kong celebrity, actor/director Daniel Wu. Joining them with youthful zeal and energy were volunteers from South Korea who were supported by steel maker POSCO.

Together stars and students were helping Habitat for Humanity China rebuild the lives and homes of an initial 253 families.

Under the first phase of HFH China’s program, the aim is to rebuild at least 728 houses as well as nursery schools, health clinics, activity centers/libraries and outdoor exercise areas in Pengzhou city, 36 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital Chengdu.

Wu, a HFH China goodwill ambassador, kick-started the voluntary efforts by working tireless on Habitat builds with a few other Hong Kong artistes such as drummer/singer Jun Kung, actor Ken Wong, rapper/producer Brandon Ho and Ah Phat from the hip hop group 24Herbs. At the end, Wu asked the Habitat home partner if he was satisfied with a brick wall that the actor had helped build, to which the answer was a resounding yes. Wu’s account of his build with Habitat for Humanity is given in his . At a press conference held recently in Hong Kong, Wu committed to donate 100,000 yuan (about US14,640) to HFH China to support reconstruction work.

Meanwhile, Jun Kung has written a song for Habitat as the theme music of Habitat’s reconstruction project in Sichuan. He found that many of the families in Taizi village have already recovered from the tragedy and moved on with their lives. He hoped that more people would contribute their time and become volunteers to help these families rebuild their homes.

During her two-day stint in the mountainous rural areas, Karen Mok reached out to earthquake-affected people by visiting a villager who lost her husband in the disaster as well as helping another family to prepare lunch. Her visit to a junior school in the affected area was received with much enthusiasm by the children. Later, Mok donned a safety helmet and gloves to lay bricks and mix cement along with home partners and Korean volunteers.

Mok shared her experiences on and at a press conference on her return to in Hong Kong. She told journalists that she did not realize building houses could be such hard work. A first-time Habitat volunteer, she was impressed by a team of Korean university students who had formed a human chain passing bricks. Mok recognized that “rebuilding houses for the earthquake victims is an important part of reconstruction”, a work that is also long and difficult.

The Korean team who made an impression on Mok was supported by South Korean steel giant POSCO, a strong Habitat partner, to build in Taizi village. All the team members previously built with Habitat in eastern Thailand in January 2009.

HFH China is looking at recruiting more volunteers through a photo exhibition to be held in Hong Kong and through publicity from the celebrity builds. From February 2009, the Sichuan project office expects to host at least two volunteer teams each month. Under the program titled Sichuan Earthquake Response Volunteer Extraordinaire or SERVE, the volunteers are briefed about and prepared for spartan conditions which are different from the usual Global Village experience.

Michelle Won, a 22-year-old volunteer from the first SERVE team in Sichuan, said: “At first I felt uneasy because of the language barrier. But the people are very kind. We communicate through eye contact and body language. Even though we don’t speak the same language, we can still do the work.”

The earnestness of the Korean volunteers struck Habitat home partner Zheng Qingying. “We don’t know each other but they still come from so far away to help us. Since they arrived, they have been working hard. It is tough on them. I can’t really express myself but I have a good feeling about them.”

Michelle Won said: “My regret is that we are only building for three days.” Like her team-mates, Won, a 22-year-old English major at Hangook University of Foreign Studies, had to return to South Korea to start her new term on 2nd March. Despite her short time in Taizi, she is filled with a sense of mission. “When I go back to Korea, I will inform others about the serious situation and encourage others to come here and build for a longer time.”

In April, 40 volunteers from Hong Kong’s Evangelical Community Church will set off for Sichuan to bolster Habitat’s efforts to rebuild lives and homes.

The homes the Hong Kong stars and Korean volunteers helped to build are two-story wooden frame houses designed by Sichuan University. Families have a choice of building walls with red bricks, stone, compressed earth blocks, fiber board or a combination of these materials. Some families have opted to use bricks which they have salvaged from the rubble of their collapsed houses. The doors and window panes also feature distinctive ethnic motifs.

The cost of building such houses will be covered by grants from the government and Habitat’s donors respectively as well as the family’s own cash contribution. The average cost of a completed house (excluding furnishings) in the first phase of reconstruction is estimated to about 100,000 yuan.

Habitat is in discussions with local officials to explore the possibility of reconstruction in other villages in Xiaoyudong town. The entire post-earthquake reconstruction project in Sichuan is expected to be completed over 18 months.

The houses in Taizi have an average area of 100 sq. m.. Families have the option of turning their new homes into “nong jia le”, a bed-and-breakfast style guest house as, before the earthquake, Taizi was a popular summer retreat for tourists.

HFH China’s chief executive officer Alfred Tsang said: “Many of the families have already recovered from the tragedy and moved on with their lives. What they need now is a sustainable community which will continue to grow and develop. The design of the houses will allow families to turn their new homes into ‘nong jia le’ based on the ‘bed & breakfast’ concept. In the long term, it will help the economy of Taizi village.”

Tsang’s thoughts mirrored what a village leader said. According to Yang Zaixiang, voluntary secretary of the Taizi village committee, houses used to be spread out in various locations before the May 2008 earthquake. “After the earthquake, people are rebuilding their houses together. Through ‘nong jia le’, there will be socio-economic development. Life will be much better than before,” Yang said.

Yang is optimistic that price-cutting and other negative effects of competition can be minimized for families running “nong jia le” establishments. He thought some families would provide trades and services for the outlets such as rearing organic chickens or running kitchens for several “nong jia le”.

Organic poultry is something that farmer Qing Ming already has in mind. One of the village leaders, his family of four are currently living in a temporary shelter while supervising the construction of their new house. Qing used to grow rice in his small field but has since switched to the more profitable cultivation of Chinese herbs.

With its earthquake-resilient and anti-humidity features, Qing reckoned that his new house will be better than his former house which collapsed in the earthquake. When the earth shook, Qing knew his old house would not withstand the disaster so he turned his thoughts to saving those who were trapped or injured. For several days after the earthquake, Qing and his family stayed outside the village due to fears over the dangers of quake lake and possible epidemic.

While his family was given a room in the government shelter, Qing decided to build a temporary shelter in September 2008 when foundation work began on his new house. In January 2009, he bought more than 200 chicks which he planned to rear as free range poultry in his fruit garden. For each free-range chicken, he will be able to sell it at four to six yuan (about US0.60 to US0.90) more per kilogram compared to ordinary poultry.

His wife Zhou Juyu said: “After the earthquake, I felt despair because our house had collapsed. But life is getting better day by day. I still have what is precious to me – my son. With Habitat’s help, I am filled with hope for the future.”