Hengyang: Disaster and Recovery

Mudslide forces evacuation

During a torrential June rain, a section of a hill in the Chinese city of Hengyang broke away and rushed downward. When the landslide was over, buildings were damaged and underground streams had destabilised the ground. Unfortunately, these buildings contained the homes of 80 young boys and girls living in ICC’s Hengyang Project. 

The Hengyang Project — or Spring Project, as it is translated from Chinese — is located on land owned by the local Chinese government. Over the past 10 years, ICC has been given use of a number of buildings on the site. The buildings have been repaired or updated, accommodating the more than 130 children in full-time care. Most of the buildings have seen better days and haven’t always been ideal facilities for providing care for disabled children. But, they have been “home” to so many and have been the site where many lives have been saved. 

ICC shares the grounds with the Hengyang Welfare Centre — the institution to which abandoned children in the city of Hengyang are brought. This proximity to the welfare centre has given ICC a unique ability to intervene and advocate for children with disabilities. 
The impact of the landslide on the buildings made the homes unsafe for entry or further habitation. At the same time, the runoff from the rain was flowing underground, right beneath the buildings that housed the Vocational Training Centre’s craft workshop, the kitchen facilities and some administration offices. 

Eventually, that underground water and soil flowed toward another building that housed a number of the young boys. Just like the homes hit by the landslide, these other buildings now became unsafe as well. The staff of International China Concern had no choice but to evacuate the children from their homes. 

“The children had to be moved, but the question was, ‘to where?’” says Alison Kennedy, ICC’s International Project Liaison in Hengyang. 

“Fortunately, Director Jiang of the Hengyang Welfare Centre made room for us in their nearby building. All we had to do was get the children moved.”
Of course, moving children who have a range of special needs and disabilities is an enormous task. “We’re so grateful for the action the local government took to help us,” Kennedy says. Within hours, members of a local regiment of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were onsite helping ICC’s staff to move children, salvage furniture and equipment, and get everyone to the safety of the welfare centre. Thankfully, not a single child, volunteer or staff member was hurt during this process. 

The welfare centre offered a safe and temporary refuge while construction continued nearby on a new building that was already well underway — the new children’s care centre that would replace the old buildings now deemed unsafe. As it happens, this building had already been in the works for some time and was scheduled for completion in November of this year. The new building increases our total capacity, allowing us to take on the care of more children. It also restructures the space so that the kids can benefit from family-style housing. 
“The new building will have 20 family homes in it,” explains Kennedy. “It gives us the opportunity to show some of the kids what family life is like. This is a chance for them to learn about what it is to be a brother or a sister.” Each home will have two bedrooms, a big living area, a fully accessible bathroom, and a wheelchair accessible kitchen. 

The old buildings will be knocked down shortly after the children are moved into their new homes, and new playgrounds will be constructed in their place. Kennedy is grateful that this new residence comes just at the right time. “We’re going to have a place in the new building where we remember with thanks where we came from,” she says. “The old buildings have been places of joy that have given life, but this is the next stage.”