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The Eleven Hour Journey to Earthquake-Affected Communities in China
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Ramsey Rayyis, regional representative for the American Red Cross in China, writes about ongoing recovery efforts for the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
November 19, 2009
Ramsey Rayyis and Han Xu
Ramsey Rayyis and Han Xu, program officer for the American Red Cross, hold awards given by the Red Cross Society of China for our contributions to the Sichuan Earthquake response.
Red Cross Society of China
Villagers in remote areas of Sichuan must travel long distances to collect water from unprotected sources.
Ramsey Rayyis/American Red Cross

I never could have imagined what it would take to get there. First, a 3-hour flight from Beijing, followed by eight precarious hours on the mountain "roads" of Sichuan.

 We drove and we drove, passing cars, trucks, and people, with the road becoming more narrow, steep and bumpy at every hairpin turn. As we drove, I imagined what it would be like to live here: carrying several pounds of dense cement roof tiles in a straw basket on my back, trudging up this rugged terrain for miles. We bumped past many men and women doing just that, determined to rebuild their lives in the face of incredible hardship.

When we arrived in our first potential site for the Red Cross clean water project, I met Ms. Wu, a woman who visibly embodies the determination to build a future that is present here. After being struck with a falling stone in the quake, she is limited in her ability to work, but still carries water to her family using a shoulder harness and two balanced buckets. The Red Cross water system we are working on will bring fresh water directly to her doorstep. Ms. Wu welcomed us into her farmers shed, where she and her family have been living, among drying corn and rusted farm tools, while they wait for their new Red Cross funded home to be built.

After a narrow escape from a hairpin turn partially blocked by boulders and mud, we finally arrived at the last potential water project site on our trip, Sha He Village. I remain in awe of the feats of strength and engineering it must have taken to get construction materials here at all. After more than a year and a half of struggles, villagers are finally nearing the completion of their homes, thanks to Red Cross funding. The water system that we were assessing will eliminate the need for villagers to walk several kilometers to fill their buckets. In this harsh environment, I was amazed at the outpouring of warmth and thanks from villagers as they filled pot holes in anticipation of our arrival, and handed us fresh sticks of sugar cane and newly harvested peanuts for our long trip back.

After braving the mountains of Sichuan to assess sites for our water system, I realized how important and unique an organization like the Red Cross is. We made one of many journeys to some of the most remote locations in the earthquake zone, bringing assistance to the very last mile. Even in such a remote and unforgiving environment, Red Cross resources combined with the determination and strength of villagers make rebuilding possible.

Want to learn more about Red Cross efforts to provide relief after the earthquake in China? Download the One-Year Update on the American Red Cross Response.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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