Yang Shifu was chatting with a friend when a massive earthquake struck on May 12, 2008. The earthquake, which measured almost 8.0 on the Richter scale, was one of the deadliest of the twentieth century, killing more than 85,000 people.
Yang Shifu managed to run outside when the quake began, but he saw the walls of his friend’s house tottering. As he stared, horrified, the walls collapsed on his friend. Immediately, Yang Shifu began digging his friend out of the rubble. He had no tools and used his hands to dislodge bricks and unearth his friend. She was alive, but she’d suffered a head injury and was bleeding.
Once Yang Shifu ascertained that his friend was conscious, he begged her neighbors to look after her. Then he ran home to check on his wife and mother.
When he reached his own home, he found it destroyed. Yang Shifu’s mother had escaped the house collapse uninjured, but his wife, like his friend, had sustained a head wound that was bleeding. Yang Shifu took his mother to the field near their house, where other villagers were gathered. Then he carried his wife on his back and walked in search of medical help.
Yang Shifu was able to flag down a motorbike and persuade the driver to take them to the hospital. Sitting on the back of the bike, Yang Shifu held his wife in his arms; she was in a lot of pain, crying and unable to speak. Everywhere along the road, Yang Shifu saw collapsed buildings. He held his wife tightly and prayed.
Arriving at the hospital, they found patients overflowing the building into the exterior yard. Yang Shifu and his wife got in line outside and waited for a doctor. A doctor eventually examined Yang Shifu’s wife, but the hospital was completely out of medicine. The doctor bandaged Yang Shifu’s wife’s head, and told her that was all he could do.
Yang Shifu and his wife made their way back to Minle on a motorbike driven by an acquaintance Yang Shifu spotted at the hospital. From the main road outside their village, Yang Shifu carried his wife back into Minle, where he found his mother and built a tent with their neighbors.
They used bamboo posts and striped plastic sheeting to make a rudimentary shelter. Ten people crammed into the tent that night, but it was still cold, and everyone was hungry. All they had to eat was some rice that a neighbor shared with them.
Yang Shifu’s wife made it through the night and slowly recovered over the next ten days that they stayed in the tent. Then Yang Shifu built a bigger, sturdier tent in a neighbor’s yard, where he, his wife and his mother stayed with several large families for about three weeks. Thereafter, he built a tent using wood posts, striped plastic sheeting and corrugated asbestos sheets for the roof. They’re still living in that tent, with five other people.
Yang Shifu is just beginning the process of rebuilding his house and, as he put it, his prayers were answered when Build Change began working in Minle a few months ago. Although Yang Shifu played the role of hero during the earthquake, he couldn’t play that part in his house reconstruction process without Build Change’s help.
In January, Build Change held a training course on good construction practices that Yang Shifu attended. Even now, a month later, Yang Shifu remembers that the steel reinforcement in the plinth beam should be 12mm in diameter.
“The most helpful parts of the training were about how many tie columns the house should have, and about the proper grade of steel and quality of concrete,” says Yang Shifu. “The training was good. No group has ever come to Minle to give a training before, and we need this kind of training.”
Yang Shifu is now working with Build Change to develop a layout for his house. The layout will ensure that Yang Shifu’s rebuilt house will have the features he requires, while also incorporating earthquake-resistant design aspects, such as a sufficient number of tie columns. “Quality is key,” says Yang Shifu. “There’s no point in having a new house if it’s not safe.”
“I’m very appreciative of Build Change’s help,” Yang Shifu continues, “and it’s not just my opinion, but the whole village. We trust Build Change and believe in you. If we have questions, we can ask you. And if you tell us the construction is ok, we trust you.”