September 20, 2010 — Over 50 fifth-graders from one of the earthquake-affected counties in Sichuan Province, China last week took part in an interactive class on disaster risk reduction by their teacher as part of a broader program being implemented by The Asia Foundation to support recovery and rural housing rehabilitation following the devastating earthquake there in 2008. The class, which included video, news clips, and students’ own observation and experiences with thunderstorms and lightening, was a striking change from the type of safety announcements that teachers used to read to students. Through teacher training, the project is improving disaster preparedness and mitigation in schools and communities in the earthquake-affected province, one of the objectives of this two-year program, supported by the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA). The program has already trained more than 100 teachers on how to better disseminate disaster risk reduction knowledge and skills to students and developed teacher and student handbooks that will be distributed to over 1,140 elementary and middle schools, that have a total student population of over 1.5 million students.
The students in Ms. Luo Yan’s class at Yindu School of Dayi County now attend a special disaster risk reduction class almost every other week. Sitting in the back of the classroom last week were teachers and administrators from another 40 schools in Dayi County, Dayi County’s Education Bureau, as well as representatives from USAID/OFDA and The Asia Foundation. Ms. Luo and the other 40 Yadi teacher representatives all participated in a multiple-hazard risk reduction training under the program in March, 2010 jointly conducted by The Asia Foundation, the Academy of Disaster Reduction and Emergency Management, and Chengdu Education Foundation). The workshop focused on natural disasters in Sichuan (e.g. landslides, earthquakes, flooding, etc.), and discussed means to improve disaster risk reduction (DRR) education. Since then and with project support, Ms. Luo and the other participating teachers have conducted various DRR activities in Dayi to apply their newly-acquired knowledge and skills. In addition to DRR classes similar to Ms. Luo’s, teachers integrated DRR in their school curricula, educated parents and community members, conducted evacuation drills, and improved local contingency plans.
After Ms. Luo’s class, some teacher representatives shared experiences from activities conducted in their schools. Mr. Mou Bing, Principal of a school in a mountainous area in Dayi, made a presentation on DRR teaching in his school, as well as disaster management initiatives at his school after the training, including working with peer teachers on developing hazard maps for the school and its neighboring area, identifying hazards (especially landslides) along the students’ commute routes, and setting up DRR communication channels with its neighboring nine villages. The improved disaster management helped his school promptly notify families and students when a landslide took place in the early morning in April along a mud road near the school.
Before observing the class in Dayi, representatives of USAID/OFDA and The Asia Foundation met with professors and students from the program’s other partners, the School of Architecture and Environmental Science of Sichuan University (SCAE). Under the program, SCAE traveled to over 100 villages/sites to assess rural rebuilding models. They worked closely with Build Change, an international non-profit social enterprise focused on earthquake-resistant housing design and training, and developed a safe rebuilding manual which aims to help government officials understand rural rebuilding process, and serves as a step-by-step guide to rural residents on how to build a low-cost and earthquake-resistant house. Based on recovery experiences in Sichuan, the manual is also suitable to rural house reconstruction in the other parts of China. The Ministry of Civil Affairs, one of The Asia Foundation’s long-term partners in China, will soon utilize this manual to train local government officials around China with support from this ongoing program.
As part of a separate USAID/OFDA-funded program that The Asia Foundation has been implementing over the past four years, the Foundation, Ministry of Civil Affairs, and the Ningbo Department of Civil Affairs convened a site visit September 14-16th for stakeholders from Linli County, Hunan Province and Xuanhan County, Sichuan Province to witness first-hand various innovative community-based disaster management practices that have been piloted in two communities (Gaohetang and Xue Yuan) in Ningbo. Highlights of the site visit included evacuation plans and emergency shelters based in community-centers and primary schools. Under this Public Private Partnerships for Disaster Management project (2006-2010), The Asia Foundation has been supporting public and private stakeholders in in Gaohetang and Xue Yuan to develop participatory, multi-sectoral, and community-driven models for disaster management; and the experiences of these two pilot communities have now been replicated in over 80 communities in Ningbo and have been named by MOCA as national models for China.