UC Davis students are still feeling the aftershocks of Monday’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake in China’s Sichuan province, but some have jumped into action to aid the relief efforts.
Approximately 20,000 people have died and 40,000 people are missing or buried in rubble, according to the Xinhua news agency, and relief efforts on the ground have been slowed by poor weather and dangerous conditions.
“It’s a big disaster; seeing the newspapers and the numbers [of dead and missing] are increasing every minute,” said Aici Kuang, who has been helping with the UC Davis relief effort. “We’re out here for a few hours and already the numbers have increased.“
In response to the historically large disaster, members of the Chinese Students and Scholars Fellowship, an on-campus club for Chinese students, raised over $3,000 in three hours Thursday at their fundraiser outside the Memorial Union. They will have a fundraising table outside the MU from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and from noon to 3 p.m. Monday.
The students‘ table is decorated with posters about the disaster in Sichuan showing facts about the constantly rising death toll and relief efforts. Spread across the table is a banner covered in student signatures and messages written in English and Chinese. Printed in large characters across the top is the phrase “Fight the earthquake, help Sichuan.“
The magnitude of the disaster prompted the students to organize their fundraiser quickly.
“I cried the first time I heard, and immediately ran to my Buddha and prayed,” Kuang said. A native of Guangdong province in China, Kuang immigrated to the United States five years ago. Although her home was unharmed in the earthquake, Kuang called her friends immediately after hearing news of the disaster, formed a relief group and connected with members of Chinese Students and Scholars Fellowship to plan a united fundraising effort.
“What they really need is water and food,” Kuang said. “They don’t have a home anymore, they just stay under a tent, crowded and crying.“
To help the victims, the students formed a coalition, enlisting the Chinese department’s help to contact Chinese students on campus and soon they were planning their fundraiser with a legion of new volunteers.
“People are very active and want to help,” said fellowship president Huan Song. Song, a native of Sichuan province who came to the United States in order to get his doctorate in computer science, began organizing a relief effort within hours of hearing about the disaster.
“In my hometown no one is dying,” Song said, his statement sobered when he added that the earthquake caused schools in Sichuan to collapse, trapping students inside. Hundreds have been killed in schools, and the death toll is still rising, according to numerous reports.
The fellowship does not have an official fundraising goal yet.
“We just do whatever we can to connect whatever we can connect,” Song said.
Connecting across cultures and showing support for the victims of the earthquake was a sentiment echoed by many of the students involved in the fundraiser. Junior psychology major Bin “Ares” Zhang stayed up until 3 a.m. Thursday morning designing the banner with his girlfriend.
After sending the banner to Sichuan, Zhang said he hopes the Sichuan people will feel the support of those abroad.
“They will know that people overseas are helping them,” Zhang said.
Kuang agreed, adding “I just want everyone to show their support, even if they don’t give money they can sign our big banner to send to the disaster area so people can see our heart and our support.“
As of fall 2007, there are 4,851 Chinese or Chinese American students and 177 Chinese or Chinese American faculty members at UC Davis, according to the UC Davis News Service.
Ao Wang, a Chinese department visiting lecturer from Yale University, hails from Qingdao in China’s Shandong province. Eight years ago he came from China inspired by his poetic and artistic muses – the likes of whom include Walt Whitman and Miles Davis – to study and translate poetry. He said he was shocked when he found out about the disaster.
“I cried and called my friends in Beijing and Sichuan,” Wang said. “We didn’t sleep all night…. I have many friends there and I care deeply about them.“
After the news of the disaster, Wang wanted to show his students the impact of the earthquake.
“I showed my students some pictures – not those bloody, sad pictures – but of how beautiful Sichuan is,” Wang said.
He added that Sichuan is also the home of the giant panda, whose fate is now uncertain. Teams have not been able to enter panda reserves in mountainous areas to assess the pandas‘ conditions, Kuang said.
“The center of this earthquake is also the center of the Qiang people,” Wang said, adding that the Qiang are an ethnic minority of China.
“This event has nothing to do with politics or nationalism,” Wang said. “I think everybody cares about those suffering people; that’s what makes them human.“
Like many others, he emphasized the importance of bridging cultures to help the victims of the earthquake.
“We can’t just criticize each other; the Chinese government always criticizes America for what it did in Iraq, and the American government always criticizes China for human rights issues,” Wang said. “But [here] we’re not comparing who is worse. We should help each other.“
Members of the fundraising group urged more students to donate money and support the victims of the earthquake, regardless of cultural background.
“I know everyone has a heart to help people, it doesn’t matter if they’re Chinese,” Kuang said. “A lot of people who donated today weren’t Chinese.“
CAITLIN KELLY-SNEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.