From Wenchuan to Lushan: An Overview of Disaster Relief NGO Efforts

China Development Brief No 59 (Fall 2014)

中文 English

The number of disaster relief NGOs that participated in the rescue efforts following the May 12, 2008, Wenchuan Earthquake can be inferred from the circumstances of the two major coordinating alliances established in its wake. At the time when the NGO Sichuan Disaster Relief Joint Office (NGO四川救灾联合办公室) was established, there were over 100 participating organizations. In June 2008, 46 organizations signed an agreement to form Sichuan’s 5.12 Voluntary Relief Center (四川512民间救助服务中心) (hereafter referred to as the “5.12 Center”). These 46 participating organizations were core members that brought specific programs and services into the disaster area, in addition to more than 30 external supporting groups. At its height, I estimate that there were more than 300 groups that entered the earthquake disaster zone, not to mention the additional student and volunteer societies, and short-term participation by groups and organizations. Altogether there were more than 500 participating groups. At the time, the Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Sociology (四川社科院社会学所) and the Fuping Development Institute (富平学校) cooperated on a “Volunteer Gas Station” project (supported by a donation from the Ford Foundation), which counted approximately 1200 Sichuanese university students among its participants. After the beginning of the academic term in August that year, a large number of volunteer groups left the disaster area. At the same time, the government also accelerated reconstruction efforts, ordering the public to return to their homes and begin repairs, while various engineering projects simultaneously attracted a large group of laborers. Consequently, the target group of many NGO activity centers disappeared, and disaster relief efforts reached a low point.

For the first half of 2009, some NGOs continued to implement selected services from their disaster relief projects, but the period from late 2009 to early 2010 was the most challenging for NGOs. In addition to the emergency response programs of many NGOs coming to an end during this time, the government began post-disaster reconstruction efforts and some localities began requesting the withdrawal of NGOs and their volunteers. I remember in August 2009 when I went to Beijing to participate in the first Public Welfare Organization Exchange Forum, Xu Yongguang, from the Narada Foundation, asked me how many organizations remained involved in post-disaster reconstruction. I told him that this was the most difficult period we had encountered to date, and that including NGOs, social worker stations and volunteer groups’ projects, there remained only around 50 organizations. In the second half of 2010, the government began rolling out its reconstruction program. Owing to several foundations deciding to offer support, the number of disaster relief NGOs began to slowly increase. On the third anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake, Daping Village organized a memorial event in the Global Village (located in the Lehe Jiayuan 乐和家园) that was attended by approximately 60 organizations. There are currently an estimated 80 NGOs working in the 5.12 Disaster Area, including social worker stations.

In 2013, many services organized by these groups were faced with shutting down. The post-disaster reconstruction projects supported by the Narada Foundation and the programs run by the Chinese Red Cross Foundation (中国红十字基金会) from 2008 to 2011 had already come to an end. There were, however, various groups and organizations that developed programs to provide financial support for charities participating in reconstruction efforts. Such efforts included: the World Bank’s ” Marketplace Development Project” (发展市场项目); the Nokia and Song Qingling Foundation (诺基亚与宋庆龄基金会) and the Sinar Mas Group (金光集团) joint “Sunshine Home” project (阳光家园) project; and the Partnerships for Community Development’s (社区伙伴) “Community Influence” project (社区影响”). The “Wenchuan Earthquake Post-Disaster Reconstruction” project proposal program—funded by a five million RMB investment from The China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (中国扶贫基金会) between 2011 and 2012—supported projects from 18 on-site organizations and three external organizations that conducted research and offered support and evaluation services. Altogether, 21 organizations received financial support. There were also some disaster relief projects supported by individual groups, such as Amity Foundation (如爱德基金会), Taiwan Sichuan Union (台湾川盟), Red Cross Society of Taiwan (台湾红会), World Vision (宣明会), Oxfam (乐施会), Mercy Corps International (国际美慈), Habitat for Humanity (仁人家园), Hong Kong Red Cross (香港红会), Social Workers Across Borders (无国界社工) and university groups from Hong Kong.

From the end of 2011 to the beginning of 2012, Chengdu implemented reforms concerning the administration of social organizations, which allowed a large group of local Sichuanese NGOs and volunteer groups—as well as several groups without NGO backgrounds—to formally register. The remaining disaster relief groups finally saw a relatively positive turn of events for the public welfare sector.

Prior to the 5.12 Earthquake, there were a number of charities devoted to social development in Sichuan, such as the WWF, PCD, Heifer International (国际小母牛), Chengdu Waterways Research Association (成都城市河流研究会), Roots and Shoots (根与芽), the Chengdu Shuguang Community Development Capacity-Building Center and Conservation International (保护国际). After these organizations concluded their emergency rescue efforts, they all gradually returned to their own sectors. If there were disaster relief projects already organized, then they would participate. They would not, however, take the initiative to organize their own relief efforts.

The disaster relief organizations that changed the most were the group of new organizations that emerged after the 5.12 Earthquake. These groups included: Chinese Heart (中国心), IYouShe (爱有戏), Spirit Home (心家园), Lizhong (益众), Liduo (益多), Lekang (乐康), and Yitiangongyi (一天公益), among others. Many of these organizations were former volunteer groups that were established after graduating from the Non-profit Incubator (恩派) program. In the last five years or so, these groups also received various training and study opportunities. For instance, the Sichuan Academy (川道学苑)—launched in 2010 by the 5.12 Center with financial support from Oxfam—organizes an educational activity every month, with a total of 155 participating organizations and 549 participating individuals. During this time, these organizations succeeded in obtaining project funding and, by means of sheer persistence, achieved a level of organizational maturity. Spirit Home, for example, was originally a group of volunteers but, after graduating from NPI, they succeeded in obtaining two years of financial support from the Nokia Sunshine Home project. Two years later, they benefitted from the improvements to the public welfare environment.

When the Lushan earthquake hit on April 20, the first responders and participants all came from the new organizations founded after the 5.12 Earthquake, and almost none came from the older groups that originally sponsored the 512 Center. Organizations such as The Sichuan Shangming Social Development Research Center (尚明公益), Zhang Guoyuan’s (张国远) NGO Disaster Preparedness Center (NGO备灾中心), and other similar groups should all be regarded as new organizations established after the Wenchuan Earthquake.

An alliance of disaster relief NGOs was able to take shape in 2008 owing to the networks formed among participants from various organizations in the PCD’s Youth Trainee Program, which in turn led to the founding of the 5.12 Center. Originally, the PCD trainee project did not focus on disaster relief. Since participants relied on the network, however, participating organizations transcended typical professional boundaries. Leaders of the organizations developed closer ties, fostering trust and building foundations for cooperation, all of which facilitated seamless cooperation in the aftermath of the 5.12 Earthquake. After the 4.20 Lushan Earthquake, the “Chengdu Public Welfare Organization 420 United Rescue Operation” (成都公益组织420联合救援行动) was formed on a similar coalitional foundation.

How much of an impact has the 5.12 Earthquake had on public welfare organizations in Sichuan? In reality, it did not radically change the conditions under which they exist. Generally speaking, the situation for post-disaster reconstruction NGOs is quite difficult. The standard amount of financial support provided by foundations at the time was around RMB 1500 per month to pay for staff costs, which barely allowed disaster relief NGOs to cover their expenses. The circumstances of the 4.20 Lushan earthquake have been much better. For instance, the Tencent Foundation (腾讯基金会) invested a RMB 500,000 project in one village. In addition, the Narada Foundation had projects valued at RMB 300,000, with which NGOs could also combine other funding sources. In comparison, during the reconstruction efforts following the 5.12 Earthquake, a single project by The China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation was only valued at RMB 100,000, or RMB 200,000 at most.

When foundations decide which disaster relief NGOs to support, it is important to not merely consider a group’s immediate needs, but also their long-term prospects. A foundation should only support a program or service if it is capable of training a wider group of organizations. After the Wenchuan earthquake, the foundations offering financial support mainly supported individual projects, which only provided material goods and services to the disaster area, without giving any thought to an organization’s development. If organizational development is not supported, then who will go and work on the projects? In the Lushan earthquake’s case Narada Foundation provided financial support to disaster relief organizations from the beginning, and only with this support were those organizations able to carry out relief efforts. In recent years, the five big foundations—Narada Foundation, Tencent Foundation, China Youth Development Foundation (青基会), The Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, and the One Foundation (壹基金)—have changed their outlooks on providing support and their viewpoint is clear: if you want to support an organization, then that organization needs to be capable of integrating with the community and have long-term potential.

As for whether or not all NGOs need to go to the disaster area, this should be decided based on a group’s strengths and circumstances. Some organizations are more suited to having a stationary post (such as social worker organizations), whereas others are more suited to providing on-site provisional services (such as specialist organizations). For example, the NGO Disaster Preparedness Center clearly understands that if they do not occupy a stationary post, then they must undergo emergency response and disaster prevention education before entering a disaster area. For other organizations, they go to disaster areas because they have the resources and there is a demand for their services. They can broaden the scope of services offered on-site and train their members.

从汶川到芦山:灾援NGO的总体情况

2008年5.12汶川地震后参与灾援的NGO数量,可以根据当时成立的两大联合救灾协调机构的情况来推断。NGO四川救灾联合办公室成立时发起参与的机构有100多家[1]。2008年6月,签定协议书成为四川512民间救助服务中心(以下简称“5.12中心”)成员的有46家机构,这46家机构都是带着具体项目进入灾区的核心成员,另外还有30多家外围机构。我估计进入汶川地震灾区的组织,最多的时候有300多家,另外加上学生社团、志愿者团队、短期进入又撤离的机构,前后总共约有500多个团队和机构。当时四川社科院社会学所与富平学校合作的《志愿者加油站》(由福特基金会好邻居项目支持)项目,包括各高校川籍学生在内的参与者就有1200多人。2008年8月高校开学后,大批志愿者团队离开灾区。此时政府也开始加快重建,要求老百姓回家建房,各种工程开工也吸引了一大批劳动力,青少年开学回到学校,各个NGO的活动中心也就没有什么服务对象了,灾援行动进入低潮。

到2009年上半年,一些NGO还有部分灾援项目继续执行,从2009年下半年到2010年上半年,这段时间对NGO而言最为艰苦。政府开始做灾后重建,有的地方开始劝退NGO和志愿者,另外NGO的很多紧急救援项目也在这段时间内结束。记得2009年8月去北京参加第一届公益组织交流会,(南都基金会)徐永光问我还有多少家(做灾后重建),我说包括NGO、社工站和志愿者的项目团队在内还剩50多家,这段时间是最难的时候。2010年下半年,政府重建规划开始实施,由于又有基金会开始提供支持,NGO的钱到位后,灾援NGO数量又有缓慢增长。2011年汶川地震3周年时,在地球村(乐和家园所在的)大坪村举办了一次纪念活动,大概有60多家组织参加。现在估计在512灾区的NGO,包括社工站站点在内有80多家。

2013年,这些组织的很多项目又都面临结束。南都基金会2008~2011年的灾后重建项目、中国红十字基金会项目都在2008~2011年执行完毕。另外世界银行的“发展市场项目”,诺基亚与宋庆龄基金会、金光集团合作的“阳光家园项目”,PCD(社区伙伴)的“社区影响”项目等也资助了一些公益机构参与重建。中国扶贫基金会2011~2012年灾后重建投入500万的《汶川地震灾后重建》招投标项目,扶持在地服务的18家机构,加上进行研究、提供支持和评估的3家机构,共21家机构获得资助。还有一些零星的项目:如爱德基金会、台湾川盟和台湾红会、宣明会、乐施会、国际美慈、仁人家园、香港红会、无国界社工、香港高校等都在灾区有援助重建的项目。这是大概的总体情况。

2011年底~2012年初,成都市开始实行社会组织管理改革,大批四川本地的 NGO和志愿者团队,包括一些有境外NGO背景的机构,都获得正式注册。这些坚持下来的灾援机构终于迎来了公益环境的相对好转。

5.12地震前,四川就存在一些致力于社会发展的公益机构,如WWF、PCD、国际小母牛、成都城市河流研究会、根与芽、四川蜀光、保护国际等,这些机构在紧急救援结束后,都逐步回到自己的工作领域,如果灾区有项目就做,而不是刻意去做灾后重建的项目。

变化最大的灾援机构是5.12之后出来的一批新机构。如中国心、爱有戏、心家园、益众、益多、乐康、一天公益等。它们中很多是原来的志愿者团队,通过NPI(恩派)的孵化成立起来的,五年多来也得到了各种培训和学习的机会,如原5.12中心从2010年在乐施会资助下开始的川道学苑,每月组织一次学习活动,总共有155家机构(组织)549人次参与。这些组织这些年得到项目资助,在坚持中得到成长。如心家园,本来是一群志愿者,经过NPI孵化,后来得到诺基亚阳光家园项目两年的支持,两年后就遇到公益大环境的改善。

到4.20芦山地震,最先发起和参与救灾的全部是5.12灾后成立的新机构,基本上没有原来发起成立512的老机构。尚明公益、张国远创办的NGO备灾中心等都应该算汶川地震后成立的新机构。

2008年能够形成NGO的联合救灾,成立5.12中心,缘于PCD青年实习生项目,正是基于实习生项目这个网络建立了组织间的联系。PCD的实习生项目与救灾本来没有关系,因为借助这个网络,参与机构跨越了日常的工作领域,机构负责人彼此的联系又比较密切,具有基本的信任和合作的基础,5.12灾后大家就一拍即合。芦山地震后出现“成都公益组织420联合救援行动”,也有类似的网络基础。

5.12地震多大程度影响了四川公益组织?其实对它们的生存状况改变不大。总体上,灾后重建NGO生存状况都挺艰难。当时基金会的资助标准基本上是每月1500元的人力经费,仅仅让灾援NGO能活下来。现在4.20芦山地震情况好了很多,例如腾讯基金会一个村投入一个约50万元的项目。南都基金会的项目也有30万,NGO还可以整合其他资源。5.12灾后重建的时候,中国扶贫基金会的一个项目才10多万,最多20万元。

基金会对灾援NGO进行资助的时候,重要的是不要光考虑眼前需要,要考虑受助机构的长远发展,通过一个项目能培育起一批机构,这才是基金会应该做的。汶川地震后,为NGO提供资助的基金会,基本上就是支持项目,只给灾区物资、服务,都没有想到要去培育机构。不培育机构,谁去做项目呢。这次芦山地震,南都基金会第一时间就是给灾援机构的资助,只有支持机构,他们才能去救灾。现在,南都基金会、腾讯基金会、青基会、扶贫基金会、壹基金等5大基金会的观念有了一些转变,在理念上都很明确,要支持机构,支持能够长期在村子里扎根、能坚持的机构。

至于NGO是否都一定要去灾区?也需要根据机构特长和情况有所选择。有的机构适合驻点(如社工机构),有的适合跑面(如专业机构)。如NGO备灾中心,就明确自己不驻点,需要紧急救援或做减防灾教育的时候再去灾区。也有的机构,去灾区是因为有资源、有需求,可以扩展服务领域,或锻炼队伍。

Translated and reviewed by James Evans, Kyle Shernuk and James Evers

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