August 7, 2010
It’s not easy for a NGO in China to have a vision and translate that vision into a reality, but something like that is happening in the village of Daping, Sichuan.
After taking two buses and a small “breadloaf” van (mianbao che) that we didn’t think would make it up the steep mountain road, we are here in Daping village on top of a mountain in the administrative area of Pengzhou city about 2 hours drive northwest of Chengdu. Daping is the site of an ambitious project appropriately named “Home of Happiness and Harmony” (Lehe Jiayuan) conceived by Liao Xiaoyi, founder of the Beijing-based environmental NGO, Global Village. Daping’s houses were badly damaged by the May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, and when Liao first came to the village in July of 2008, she saw in it a chance to not just rebuild the infrastructure, but also to restructure the economic and social life of the village.
With funding from the Chinese Red Cross Foundation, and Jet Li’s One Foundation, the building began in earnest in September of 2008. When I was here in June of 2009, many of the houses, and the medical clinic, were going up. Now, most of the farmers’ houses, the medical clinic, and the academy are finished. They have been built with timber from the mountain’s plentiful reserves of cypress and cedar. Together these structures at the top of Daping mountain make a statement about Liao’s vision.
Global Village is also working on reviving the village’s economy by exploring new sources of revenue such as marketing handicrafts and tourism. Lehe Jiayuan is already hosting various NGO training groups who come up for several days at a time, and is hoping to attract other groups who come to learn to about this unique project and participate in various cultural activities that are in the planning. It is also trying to restructure village governance and social life by introducing an environmental association (shengtai xiehui) which will give villagers a voice in the redevelopment of their village. Decisions about Lehe Yuan’s development are to be made jointly between GV, the village committee, and the environmental association.
Global Village has also brought in the YouChange Foundation, a well-known private foundation in Beijing, which now has a station in Daping and is responsible for managing the volunteers who help out on the ongoing projects. The reason for coming here a second time was to bring my son, Simon, who will be volunteering in Daping with his friend later this fall. They’ll be working with Wang Pan, the YouChange station director here at Lehe Jiayuan.
Lehe Jiayuan is an ambitious project and it remains to be seen whether it will succeed and serve as a model for other villages, as Liao hopes. Transportation to the village needs to be improved to allow groups to visit. There is also a mine operating in the neighboring mountain, and the occasional explosions are a reminder that not all is harmonious in Daping.
Still, one can’t sense that Liao has created something special here, a sense of community. The place is full of energetic and good-natured staff, volunteers and villagers. At night, when people congregate to play games, dance and talk, you feel that Lehe Jiayuan lives up to its name.