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Quake in China's Sichuan Province Draws Thousands of  Volunteers

  • Jamila Trindle

Thousands of volunteers and millions of donors have mobilized themselves in China in response to the earthquake that has claimed more than 67,000 lives. Jamila Trindle reports on this unprecedented outpouring of activism from Shifang, a town in the quake zone in Sichuan province.

So many volunteers have come to China's devastated Sichuan province that the government has set up drop-off points for donations.

At this depot, trucks rumble in with supplies from across the country to drop them off in huge warehouses. Vans and cars arrive with people bringing supplies and offering help.

Volunteers from the Blue Sword Bottling Company were some of the first to arrive after the quake. A tired-looking Zou Zong Feng says she and her colleagues helped dig students out of the rubble of a collapsed school.

She says they got to the school around four o'clock. When they arrived, the workers dug people out with their hands. She says they probably saved around 20 students.

Even after tens of thousands of army troops and government employees rushed to the quake zone, the needs have been so great that volunteers continue working.

Zou and 300 coworkers are among them, laboring around the clock. Each one works a shift at the company and then volunteers for several hours.

Zou says they have more than 20 vans, and colleagues drive them to the rescue points delivering water. She says the volunteers are working 24 hours, without resting. So everyone's voice is getting to the point where they can not speak.

She works in public relations, but she says this is not about making a good impression. She thinks they have done what we should do. They did not do it for the praise, but this for the victims, after seeing their tragic situation.

Shifang, an industrial town with a population of about 400,000 people, suffered comparatively moderate damage in the quake. Most buildings still stand, although many are cracked and unsafe, and the city has become a relay point for evacuees, relief supplies and workers.

Chen Xiao Bing is coordinating one of the evacuee camps at a stadium in Shifang.

Tents are sprawled out across the track and field housing. They house not only people from Shifang, but also from areas that are worse off.

He says when the volunteers came they brought food, digging tools, excavators, backhoes, everything. But he says what they really need now is donations.

Right now, Chen says, people do not have places to live - this needs to be solved because building houses takes a long time. They really need rice, cooking oil, quilts - these are the most urgent things.

Wang Yang and other students from the local high school are pitching in at the stadium, handing out water and helping people find what they need. After feeling the quake and seeing so much destruction, he has a new sense of responsibility.

"We are all Chinese," he saidl.

He goes on to say his hometown is devastated, so they have to give what they can. Wang says it makes him feel good to be able to do his part for his hometown.

The government called on Wang's Communist Youth League group to help. But many of the volunteers made individual decisions to come, spurred by unprecedented news coverage of the disaster on Chinese TV.

This spontaneous volunteering is new to modern China. For decades, the Communist Party and central government have organized all mass efforts - drawing in volunteers and conscripts for everything from anti-crime campaigns to efforts to modernize the economy.

Government officials have soundly praised the volunteers. Now, however, with troops and other workers in place, the government wants volunteers who are not trained in search and rescue, health care or psychology to go home. Instead, the government asks, consider making donations.

Corporations also have joined the relief effort with large donations. Their employees, from investment bankers to truck drivers and factory workers are contributing their time.

Zou says she is very proud to be a Blue Sword Bottling Company employee. Companies must bear some responsibility for society. She says only a socially responsible business can accomplish big things.

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