2009: Sichuan Earthquake Zone NGOs: Wavering Between Leaving and Entering

中文原文在 http://www.ngocn.org/?action-viewnews-itemid-45084


Translation of the article “Earthquake Zone NGOs: Wavering Between Leaving and Entering” in the Chinese periodical Nanfengchuang 南风窗issue of May 6, 2009 震区NGO, 摇摆在进退之间  

Officials have been gradually increasing their checks and screening of NGO volunteers. “We cannot exclude the possibility that some people with their own agenda will pretend to be volunteers while doing things that affect social stability.” For some NGOs, limits to their own capacity make it impossible to sustain work in the disaster zone over the long term.

Earthquake Zone NGOs: Wavering Between Leaving and Entering

When the Wenchuan earthquake occurred, Zheng Keke and several colleagues, filled with emotion, rushed to the disaster zone to help. They decided to stay and help. Over the past year people like them have been encountering continual frustration.

They wanted to provide some material support to schools in the disaster area to help in the reconstruction of education. There has to be a special procedure for doing anything – if they wanted to provide educational equipment and professionally trained volunteers to a school, they needed to get permission from the agency in charge and the school itself. Most of the time, getting permission has been difficult, a few times volunteers were actually kicked out.

Zheng Keke, vice director of the Hongde Cultural Development Center of Beijing says that “Over the past year, whatever the government can allow us to do, we do. If not, we leave. That is the situation.”

During the first days after the earthquake, the government allowed over 200 civil organizations, including some international organizations, to go to the disaster area to help in the relief work. In addition, a great number of individual volunteers came as well. This outpouring was a consolation for the people in the earthquake zone.

The earthquake brought some difficult to perceive social problems to the earthquake zone. If people were not careful, things could erupt into an incident. Preserving social stability became job one for the local government and the difficult-to-control people and organizations who came from the outside came to be seen as a potential cause of instability. The government gradually increased its management of volunteer groups and of individual volunteers.

The disaster area needs to be stable.” said Gao Guizi coordinator of the Sichuan 512 Relief Service Center told me. “After the earthquake, society in the disaster area is weaker, and so officials need to give more attention to this issue. “

For the many organizations and volunteers who flocked to the disaster area, the time of troubles is far from being over. At any moment they may be faced with the choice: Leave or Stay.

We Don’t Need Them

Before we would think to getting in touch with provincial officials, to do something, to put pressure on local officials.” Zheng Keke says. “Now we just do what we can, and if we can’t we just withdraw.”

Whether an NGO comes in or withdraws depends upon the attitude of local officials. Zheng Keke understands this very well. When they were doing relief work in Guangyuan, he ran into a township director who was concerned about problems in Chinese education. The two met by accident, and the township head quickly invited them to come help rebuild education in that locality.

After a few discussions, he met the vice township director in charge of education and the principal of the local school and came to a clear agreement with them on volunteers to be sent to the school to help. However, the day after leadership of the township changed and the first township director was transferred, the vice director in charge of education called Zheng Keke and told him that cooperation would be suspended because “the new township head has different views on education.”

The same disappointment was repeated in Dujiangyan. Zheng Keke planned to offer assistance to an elementary school that had been completely destroyed in the earthquake and to send in some volunteers. The school welcomed the volunteers. Before the school had reported to the local authorities, two volunteers went to the school in early June.

The principal was very supportive. He told us not to say that we are volunteers, just say that were teacher’s aides. Stay in the tent when you don’t have anything to do and don’t circulate do that people won’t notice fresh faces.

But it didn’t work out. One of the teachers reported them to the township government and the principal had to call Zheng Keke to tell him that the volunteers had to be withdrawn.

Getting things done through official channels is difficult. In order to get started working in the disaster area, they made contact with a principal leader on the Sichuan Communist Party Committee. That leader made a telephone call to the secretary of the city party committee. The secretary of the city party committee then made a phone call to the local education committee to make an appointment. Zheng Keke and two colleagues took a train from Chengdu to see them. Not only would the education committee members not shake hands, they wouldn’t stand up to greet them either. This time, though they had the support of the secretary, they still couldn’t come to an agreement.

They just come up with one pretext or another to get rid of you. If they want to change, they will think hard to come up with a way. If they don’t want to change, and I give them an overhead projector for a classroom, but they don’t use it. “

Zheng Keke decided to rely on luck. The disaster area is so large, if he runs into a wall in one district he can just switch to working in another. There is always somewhere to go. He has been doing that for nearly a year.

However, because of increasing controls on NGOs, the future remains uncertain. Luo Shihong, who has been doing social assistance work in Zundao Township 遵道镇, Mianzhu City, says that as social problems may continue to grow in the disaster area, officials may well decide that they should let more social organizations come to help.

The Mianzhu City Communist Youth League Committee and Young Volunteers Association in April 2009 issued a notice calling for strengthening management of volunteer groups and individual volunteers. The notice stated that with the one year anniversary of the earthquake approaching, very many volunteers would be flooding into the area, and “We cannot exclude the possibility that some people with their own agenda will pretend to be volunteers while doing things that affect social stability.”

The notice stated that they had done some checking and screening and this would continue. They asked that all individual volunteers service organizations register again, providing information on the times that service is provided, service recipients, and how service is provided. Moreover, all local official departments are required to maintain a detail list of all the names of the volunteers of the various voluntary organizations.

Confronted with this situation, many voluntary organizations felt they had to leave. The number of NGOs working in the disaster area has been declining. Taking Zundao Township as an example, Luo Shihong explained, that the number of NGOs working there peaked between one and two hundred. That period lasted for two to three months. Now there are about a dozen.

Luo Shihong’s organization has not registered. When they started to work in Zundao Township, they had a close and happy relationship with the local government. They worked out of the same offices. In order to make best use of these resources in post-quake reconstruction, the Zundao Township government set up the “Zundao Township Social Resources Coordination Committee” led by the Zundao Township Communist Party Secretary. Lou Shihong took part in the office work supporting the committee. The township gave them a office designation and an official stamp.

Change came too quickly. The had originally planned to register with the Mianzhu City Communist Youth League Committee. It had been agreed to beforehand. But when that notice from the Mianzhu City Youth League came out, those expectations burst like a bubble. The city committee no longer allowed them to work in their own office and pushed them out to the quake shelter area. They were also to be taken out of that semi-governmental coordinating group.

We prepared to withdraw.” said Wang Yueyun, one of the early coordination office director and a member of Luo Shihong’s group. “Unlike the early days, the disaster area no long welcomes volunteers. We have come to understood this since last August, and it is in the logic of things.”

In a report on their withdrawal from the coordinating group, he wrote, “Under the leadership of the Party Committee and government, Zundao Township gradually came back to life, going back to the earlier life it had during the previous period of harmonious development. As volunteers, what we are able to do will become less and less. Under these circumstances, we are bringing to an end nearly a year of volunteer work in Zundao Township.”

This is becoming a commonplace.

In a large quake refugee settlement area in Luoshui Township in Shifang City, the management committee has already received an official directive that they are to ask personnel of Save the Children (UK) 英国儿童救助会which had been providing help with washing infants aged three and under in the small community, to leave.

The management committee said that their standard is whether an organization is helping the public. They believe that “Save the Children” does not meet that standard. They present themselves as volunteers but don’t do anything and they are taking up a refugee shelter space that is very badly needed.

Now management committees have been set up in nearly all the small settlement communities. Some earthquake relief “advanced elements” from within the system have been appointed members of these committees. Their job is to manage everything that goes on in these communities. One of these matters is to ask about the comings and goings of organizations from outside China mainland and their members.

The director of the Luoshui Township management committee keeps a close watch on those people.

We are afraid that some accident or problem will arise. You can see for yourself, we are doing fine. People from the outside coming in to ask about this and that is not necessary.” She added, “Who knows that their real intention is.”

Reassure People

At the same settlement point, there are other organizations much appreciated by officials. One is the NGO Disaster Preparedness Center NGO备灾中心). The director of the management committee said that “They are still doing some work, the people see it and appreciate it.”

The organization said that official introduced the organization to local officials. They also got his help when they started their work in the resettlement area. She told them in order to work there, they had to establish good relations with the government.

The NGO Disaster Preparedness Center director Zhang Guoyuan said their work has been going smoothly. They don’t have nearly no problems with funding or policies.

The two NGOs Give2Asia 赠予亚洲and Trafigura托克国际 allocated funding for the disaster area and the NGO Disaster Preparedness Center became the implementer of their programs. Of the RMB 3 million in funding, 2 million were devoted to Luoshui. The local government gave the free use of land for their office. Another 1 million was allocated to support grassroots NGOs work. Nine NGOs won their support during the bidding process and have already started working out of the offices of the NGO Disaster Preparation Center.

Zhang Guoyuan and some other members are Sichuan local officials who understand the workings of government very well and so were able to set up communication and negotiations with local officials. They believe this is the most important reason they are able to maintain good relations with the local government.

You understand that exchanges and communication with government officials have to be carried out in a certain environment. We have had a lot of contact with officials before and worked closely with them. Some of the things they actually say and what the real meaning of what they say are sometimes different.” He said, “Sometimes there are implicit rules. If you understand then very good, if you don’t you will have a lot of problems. You need to penetrate their special language.”

Zhang Guoyuan set up two offices, one in Hanwang and the other in Luoshui. To prepare to set up work there, he sent two people to live in each place to live, eat and play with the local people. This helped build understanding and trust, knowledge of the needs of the local community. Once this was done, establishing an office was easy.

Now they are as close to local officials and other residents as neighbors. The management committee gave their office an official plaque. They said that two things were particularly important:

  • All their workers are Sichuanese. This helps makes it easier to communicate and building friendly cooperation.
  • They do what the local people, especially officials, want to be done.

For example, they set up an employment creation fund dedicated to training people for jobs. As everyone knows, employment is a big problem for local government. If through training the employment relevant skills of local people are improved, pressure on the local government will be much reduced. This also becomes their own political achievement.

Nonetheless, despite that, officials aren’t entirely satisfied with them. A management committee director told me, the township leadership sometimes will ask “what is that organization doing?” in a mysterious sort of way.

We must make sure that they know we exist and what we are doing.” Zhang Huikan, a manager for the NGO Disaster Center office in Hanwang said looking at the bulletin board filled with contact information for many officials. “We regularly send a progress report on our work to officials.”

Most of the time when officials reject an NGO it is because they don’t know what they are doing. Some researchers believed that officials gave permission for many organizations to go to the disaster area immediately after the earthquake was because they were overwhelmed by the disaster and didn’t have time to pay attention to the question. They looked at it positively and needed the extra help these organizations were bringing. This went on until the officials had time to pay attention to this extra help.

In many places, people who come from the outside are not managed by local officials. They don’t know what you will do so if they can get you to leave they feel relieved.” says Gao Guizi. “In the disaster area, this happened all over.”

The Sichuan 512 NGO Services Center to which Gao Guizi belong was founded after the earthquake to provide information and resources to the many NGO requesting to work in the earthquake disaster area. It is said that the 512 Center has assisted over 100 NGOs.

Some of official attitude against NGO as to do with the unethical behavior of some NGOs or volunteers. In Dujiangyan, officials caught five “volunteers”. They had collected a lot of relief materials in their tent. They were doing nothing in the disaster zone, just sleeping in their tents by day and going out at night. This incident made the authorities suspicious, so they checked on these people and found that they had lock picking tools.

Those five really messed things up…” Zheng Keke said. “Now we avoid the word volunteer. We only say we are teacher assistants.

The Mianzhu City Communist Youth League notice also mentioned this problem, saying that there are a small number of people who pretend to be volunteers but do things completely against the spirit of volunteerism. Volunteers and organizations that violate the law or regulations will have their service credentials cancelled by the Youth League, asked to leave or be handed over to police.

This is only a fuse that could lead to trouble. What officials really worry about is that volunteers from the outside will stir up the emotions of local people and influence them. If there are no outsiders around, they only need to control the site of the problem, cut off all means of communication, and they can control any problem, and it will not be made bigger. The presence of outside organizations is a challenge to this method of control.

In a place where there have been a particularly large number of deaths, especially if a school collapsed, the parents look to the volunteers as the only people upon whom they can rely. In these situations, some young volunteers may become one of those making accusations. They might encourage parents to stand up for their rights. In Dujiangyan, 200 parents who had lost children made an emotional plan to present a petition. They were all stopped by armed force. It isn’t clear whether volunteers were with them. Zhang Keke said that the skills of volunteers working in the disaster area need to be improved.

You need to know what the real situation is and what needs to be done and what shouldn’t be done”, he said. “You don’t represent yourself, you are a group. You need to put emotion aside, and handle things in a skillful way.”

Sustainable Difficulties

NGO capacity determines who long they can serve in the earthquake disaster zone. In the early days after the disaster, before there was official intervention, weak capacity prevented grassroots NGOs within China mainland from being equal to the task.

Luo Shihong has experience with this. He said, “We always thought that if we had money, we could handle anything, if we had supplies we could help people. But we gradually realized that kind of thinking is wrong.”

During the crisis relief period, supplies from within China and abroad poured into the earthquake disaster area. Sometimes tens of thousands of hundreds of thousands of tons of supplies reached a single township. Distributing those supplies became a big test of the NGOs. This involves supply chain management, warehouse management, and community surveys. Only people who possess these special skills can ensure that assistance is fairly and effectively distributed. In Zundao Township, Luo Shihong and others needed to serve 20,000 people. They were 100 volunteer organizations. It was poorly coordinated.

The specialized knowledge and efficiency of some organizations from outside China mainland awed them. One example were the NGOs from Spain and the United Kingdom. The Spanish group, in charge of supplying water, only sent three people. After doing some technical calculations on how much water each person would need to drink each day and how much water would be needed for washing, they determined how many liters of water would be needed. They set up their equipment and within two days were supplying clean water to 15,000 people. The British were equally efficient. They were in charge of toilets. After they knew the number of people in the resettlement area, they calculated how many toilets they would need to install and how large an area each toilet could serve, then installed the necessary hardware.

The period of urgent relief passed quickly and the earthquake disaster area entered the rebuilding phase. For many NGOs, this was a period of transition when they needed to go into the community to work. This required them to possess skills needed to keep working over the long term. Wanting to help wasn’t enough.

In October 2008, Luo Shihong group began giving training on how to do daily work effectively to the members of the group. They believed this training could no longer be put off. Many organizations like them are still feeling their way forward.

If they cannot in a short time quickly increase their overall capacity, they will have to leave. This overall capacity includes sustaining funds for operations, finding workers with special skills, and orderly management of the internal workings of the organization.

Taking funding as an example, many organizations are able to raise money and nobody is giving them money. One common way of saving money is for each volunteer to be responsible for their own expenses rather than the organization. In Shifang, Zhang Pei, the Party Secretary of the Chongqing Volunteers to Help the Elderly and Handicapped, told me this is a common method of NGOs working in the disaster area, so the organization does not have this burden.

The early volunteers, were passionate about helping, so they could tighten their belts and guive of themselves for a few weeks. But they couldn’t last for long. Cui Fan, director of the Sichuan office of Oxfam says, “Surviving is always a consideration. Just like a family in its daily life, when its finances run low, everything becomes difficult.”

Oxfam is the only international organization that received written official permission to operate in the earthquake disaster area. It set up an office in Chengdu after the earthquake. They expect over the next three to five years to spend HK$ 130 million on earthquake reconstruction, repairing small local infrastructure and living conditions. Funding is not a problem. Even so, they do face limits on who they can deliver services to and capacity limitations. There are many places with unmet needs. No organization can do it all. They and other NGOs can only succeed by working together with government, with its large capacity and its coverage of all of this vast area.

We also are not certain”, said Cui Fan, “just how long we will be able to continue.”

Currently, there are still some NGOs and individual volunteers who seek to work in the earthquake disaster area. The Sichuan 512 NGO Services Center cautions them that they need to think carefully and prepare well and not act rashly. Tian Jun, one of the center’s coordinators, these people want to help others but they must be prepared to sustain their assistance over the long term. “When doing good puts you under a lot of pressure, you can suffer a lot and so will the people you are helping.”

Wang Yueyun, who is about to leave, feels there is nothing that can be done about it. For a year they have “worked hard, done all they could and grown”. Many of their efforts didn’t get started or have come to an end. He said that they will gradually be forgotten by the local people because they were not able to make as a big a difference to the local community as they had hoped and they were not able to build trust between themselves and the community.

However, they are convinced that the services provided by the government (especially services, the software aspect of things) cannot cover the needs of all the people and the entire area, there will be, as the NGOs that filled in these gaps depart one after another, there will be unmet needs that will have consequences in the disaster area for some time to come.

Recently, the suicide of a deputy director of the Beichuan County Communist Party Committee Propaganda Department attracted much attention. The local government has already issued a document calling for an enquiry into the psychological state of local officials and to take better care of government and party cadres.

In the Shifang City settlement camp, a refugee said, we need these people (NGOs).

It was an evening, the music was relatively fast, and many refugees were happily dancing under some red lights. They were using a big tent set up by an NGO to provide them with an entertainment center.

The refugee said, “The NGOs are more efficient than the government.”

Thus far, nobody has done an overall, objective assessment of NGO work in the disaster area. But the need, the trust in NGOs and the reliance upon them does certainly exist.

Some country people were at the door of their home, they say in the field opposite someone passing by. They saw it was someone from outside, they can guess that it is a volunteer. They know that someone cares about them and that they haven’t left. Gao Guizi continued, “The volunteer doesn’t have to do anything, they don’t even have to wave, they just need to pass by, and by doing so they might even save a life.”

Chinese text from http://www.ngocn.org/?action-viewnews-itemid-45084 


发布: 2009-5-12 12:18 | 作者: 章剑锋南风窗| 来源: 南风窗网站| 查看: 128次







About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Now retired, translated Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and studying some things. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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