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China earthquake relief effort adds focus on ‘Hope Centers’

CHENGDU, China (BP)–Southern Baptists can respond to the devastating earthquake that struck China’s Sichuan province May 12 in a broad range of ways, a blue-ribbon panel of disaster relief experts has reported.

The 25-member group met in mid-June at the Nashville, Tenn., offices of Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization based in Singapore. Their multifaceted assessment draws on the experience of two “initial responder” teams who visited Sichuan and input from Ben Wolf, who leads Baptist Global Response initiatives in the Asia Rim area.

The earthquake killed nearly 70,000 people and left literally millions homeless, creating a massive need for replacement housing and the challenge of people rebuilding their livelihoods. In the early days of the relief effort, Southern Baptists were able to draw on almost $900,000 in Southern Baptist relief and world hunger funds to provide basic medical supplies, food and nutritional supplements, clean water, tents, clothing, blankets, water filtration units and hygiene products, according to Jim Brown, U.S. director for Baptist Global Response.

While the panel identified a wide range of opportunities for Southern Baptists to make a difference in the lives of Sichuan’s people, one project has since emerged as the next logical step in the ministry effort –- a partnership with a Christian children’s charity that already has piloted an initiative to help children and parents traumatized by the earthquake.

“The ‘Hope Center’ outreach is based in large tents that offer a library, play area and staff and volunteers who help families cope with trauma,” Brown noted. “Five centers are already in operation but as many as 50 such centers could be established in one year’s time, with each one assisting 200 to 400 children and families.”

The Hope Center ministry follows evacuees as they move into temporary and long-term housing -– beginning with a stadium where displaced families were first housed, then to temporary tent cities and eventually on to housing where they may live for up to three years. Each center will need a generator, TV/DVD setup and temporary furniture at a cost of about $20,000 per center, Brown said. The Hope Centers will be able to operate for several years, assisting displaced families with needs as they arise -– skills training, trauma assistance, health care or needs unique to a particular community.

Another component of the initiative would be a teddy bear program similar to one conducted among children in the United States who were traumatized during the 9/11 attacks. This initiative would reach 10,000 children at a cost of $10 each.

Other initiatives in Sichuan will be launched, but the process of starting new projects moves forward very deliberately, Brown said.

“Things in China have been evolving on a daily basis,” he said. “One day we are able to identify a specific way we can help and then the next day that possibility becomes more complicated or is no longer available.

“It will take a while before we can nail down which of the many exciting possibilities before us will actually come to pass,” Brown explained. “But this is a tremendous opportunity for Southern Baptists who care to connect with people in need.”

Volunteer needs related to these projects will be limited to a few highly trained, certified specialists, Brown added. Additional details will be published at www.gobgr.org as they become available.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. The Baptist Global Response website is located at gobgr.org.

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  • Mark Kelly