Hygiene kits help earthquake survivors in remote villages

China, June 7, 2013

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  • Earthquake survivors in rural areas are grateful that relief supplies have reached them. Photo: Mercy Corps
  • Nearly all homes have been too damaged to live in. Families are staying in temporary shelters like this with no running water or sanitary facilities. Photo: Mercy Corps
  • Some of the tens of thousands of hygiene kits waiting to be distributed in remote villages. Photo: Mercy Corps
  • People line up early in Longmen township, one of many distribution points, eager to receive the desperately needed supplies. Photo: Mercy Corps
  • The kits contain soap, shampoo, baby powder, underwear, laundry detergent and other items to keep a family of four clean and hygienic for a month. Photo: Mercy Corps
  • With connections to local leaders and careful documentation, beneficiaries can see the process that ensures supplies are fairly distributed. Photo: Mercy Corps

“Eager is the word I would use to describe the feeling at the distribution sites,” Liu Xiao, one of our emergency response team members, told me after returning from bringing supplies to earthquake survivors in Longmen township.

In the first six weeks after the 7.0 Ya’an earthquake, Mercy Corps and partner NGOs have helped distribute tens of thousands of hygiene kits to local villages and towns in need.

“People are so excited they arrive early to help unload the kits and wait anxiously for their names to be called to receive them,” said Ms. Liu. “I feel a sense of achievement to give these hygiene kits after a disaster to the people who need our help. These people are so generous, it’s great to give back.”

In the aftermath of a disaster, hygiene kits are often desperately needed, but easily overlooked. A well-designed kit typically contains dental hygiene items, wash towels, soap, shampoo, bug spray, baby powder, sanitary napkins, laundry detergent and underwear The supplies can keep family of four clean and hygienic for 30 days.

“The areas where Mercy Corps is working are extremely rural,” explained Ms. Liu.

In the urban areas, like Lushan County Town, the large IDP camps are outfitted with temporary laundry services, showers and toilets. But in rural areas people feel very isolated because they don’t live close together. Some regularly enter their damaged and still very dangerous family homes during the day to try to cook meals and wash themselves. At night they sleep outside in government issued tents. There is still no running water since pipes were damaged and the military is still in the process of reconnecting most homes to an emergency water supply.

SEE PHOTOS: Damage and living conditions after quake

Many people we met hadn't showered or used soap for weeks. Such unclean conditions can impact health. “Mercy Corps thinks differently than the others,” a recipient told Ms. Liu. “You can tell because these kits contain useful items which help the entire family — especially women and children.”

On this particular distribution day, four large trucks snaked their way through the hills of Lushan County, where 95% of homes and buildings have sustained damage from the severe quake. In front of the trucks, a minibus carried four Mercy Corps staff along with student volunteers, many who had helped with emergency response in the past.

The volunteers came from several local universities, donating their precious time during exams period. “Because I am from the disaster area of Lushan I feel it is especially important to make a contribution to my home town,” volunteer Huang Jie explained.

Select volunteers, local community leaders and Mercy Corps staff are present at distribution points, and jointly participate in a detailed signing process to ensure that each kit is reaching a family in need.

One grateful resident of Longxing village told us, “We have seen so many trucks carrying food, water, and kits into the area, but some of it disappeared and never reached us. Mercy Corps’ method is very transparent and is a big relief.”

Mercy Corps works with local grassroots organizations, especially those with strong community ties to officials and leaders like Sichuan Quake Relief, which has been active since the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake and has a very strong ability to respond widely to community needs.

“Partnering with national NGOs, like the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, and local NGOs, like Sichuan Quake Relief, makes Mercy Corps the most effective from a top down and grassroots approach,” explained Kitty Shen, our hygiene kit distribution coordinator. “Our beneficiaries talk about justice and transparency — the two most important factors that make our jobs meaningful. This inspires me to continue to do this type of work.”