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NGO playing important role in quake relief
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13:43, June 11, 2008

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· 8.0 Richter scale earthquake hits SW China
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A farmer, who had never before heard of the word "volunteer", became a volunteer in the Sichuan quake area. Children were voluntarily doing something to help others. Non-government organizations and individual volunteers have played an important role in the Sichuan quake relief efforts.

In a video interview with People's Daily Online Tuesday, Liu Hui, a UNV volunteer who has been to the quake zone, and Jia Xijin, an expert in NGOs and associate professor of Tsinghua University - one of China's most prestigious universities - shared their experiences and thoughts around NGO development in China.

"Some 150,000 volunteers work in the quake zone," said Liu. They are essential because government efforts are "efficient and well-organized but clearly short-staffed."

Liu met the farmer in Sichuan when she was part of a Beijing medical relief team in the Sichuan quake zone. He said he wanted to help after he watched TV programs about those victims. Then, he left home and tried to find some way to be helpful. He joined Liu's team. He told Liu and her colleagues that he now could understand that he can do more by working as a volunteer.

Two children have impressed Liu very much. One is a 12-year-old girl whose sister is still missing. With the ensignia for"small volunteer" on her clothes, she distributed food and water in the Jiuzhou Gym, which is one of the largest settlements for displaced people. The youngest volunteer is a four-year old boy in the same settlement who gave small gifts, like toys and children's books, to other children every day.

Liu was also moved by a musical band at the Gym. An old man and a young lady sang to comfort people there every day. They did not stop even when an aftershock hit the Gym and many people began to run out. Liu recalled a scene in the movie Titanic in which a band played while the giant ship was sinking.

Prof. Jia suggested that individual volunteers need to be organized by NGOs. She thinks that is one of the most important roles that NGOs can play. Donations and voluntary services can be offered in a more organized way when NGOs and individual volunteers are integrated.

Another way that NGOs can help a lot is to find neglected places in need of aid; and get "those unheard voices heard." They can provide information about these areas to the government. In some fields, NGOs can even do more than the government --- for example, psychological aid. Some NGOs have professional experience in this field. And others are experts in other particular fields, like environmental protection, rescue and relief.

"We need experts from all aspects, rather than those sent by the government," said Prof. Jia.

By People's Daily Online

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