"Talking about the earthquake makes me very sad, my eyes fill with tears," says Xing Dayan, a resident of Minle village in Sichuan, China. We are sitting with Mrs. Xing behind the construction site of her new home and next to a large makeshift tent, in which sha and her family have been living for the past eight months.
On May 12, 2008, Mrs. Xing was taking an afternoon nap when an earthquake measuring almost 8.0 on the Richter scale struck. Waking to a loud noise and feeling shaking, Mrs. Xing initially thought a rainstorm was raging. She raced out of the house, but immediately she realized their was no rain. Feeling the upheaval underfoot, she screamed, "Dizhen!" - the Chinese word for "earthquake" - and ran into the field near her house.
"I ran so fast I even left my purse inside the house," recalls Mrs. Xing.
From the field, she watched her house collapse. She was alone, without her husband or her daughter, who was at school. Miserable with worry about her family, she tried to help her neighbor, who'd been hurt in the earthquake. Mrs. Xing brought her neighbor alcohol to disinfect his wound; his face was covered with blood.
Her neighbors' house, like her own, had collapsed, and his parents had been inside at the time. Their bodies were later recovered from the wreckage.
Mrs. Xing felt a rush of relief when her husband appeared. "I ran to him like a three-year-old seeing her mother come home!" she says of first seeing her husband after the earthquake. And Mrs. Xing's daughter, too, was safe. Her daughter's school had collapsed, but thankfully her daughter had been on a field trip, so she hadn't been at the school when it was reduced to rubble.
Mrs. Xing's mother, however, had suffered a leg injury in the earthquake and died later that night.
In the aftermath of the devastation, Mrs. Xing's husband built a shed in the field as a rudimentary shelter, but they left it after a few days, fearing robbers. Mrs. Xing and her family then moved to her uncle's property where they stayed for a month in a tent in his yard. Thereafter, they moved to the tent where they're now living, behind the site of their new house.
Their lives had been completely uprooted. In addition to the loss of her beloved parent, and the destruction of her home, Mrs. Xing lost her livelihood. "Before the eartthquake, we had a shop that sold agricultural chemicals," Mrs. Xing tells us, "but it was destroyed in the earthquake. We lost everything."
To rebuild their lives, Mrs. Xing and her family wanted to construct a new house, but "we knew nothing about housing construction," she says. Then Build Change construction trainer Chen Ting visited them at their tent, to talk about how to build safe houses.
Chen Ting's visit is part of Build Change's holistic approach to providing technical assistance to homeowners throughout the entire process of building a new home. Before any construction work begins, Build Change meets with homeowners one-on-one and also holds trainings to educate homeowners about proper construction practices and how to sign a good contract with a building contractor.
Mrs. Xing attended Build Change's training and says that she greatly benefited from learning how a house should be configured, and how to do quality control inspections of the construction. "I was very happy to have Build Change's help." says Mrs. Xing. I'm very appreciative. Without them, no one in the village would have known how to build a house."
After the training, Build Change drafter Yang Tianjun reviewed the floor plan that Mrs. Xing's husband had drawn. "Yang Tianjun made some suggestions," reports Mrs. Xing. "We added four columns to the house design on Build Change's recommendation." These columns will strengthen the house's overall structure by tying the walls together and decrease the chances that the walls will collapse in another earthquake.
Once construction began, Build Change design team leader Lawrence Liang advised Mrs. Xing to add a reinforced concrete lintel beam over the windows and doors. This reinforced beam, which is tied to the columns, will help prevent the wall over the doors or windows from collapsing in a future earthquake.
"The advice Build Change gave us was exactly right," says Mrs. Xing. "When I watched my old house collapse, the first thing that fell in was the door. Mrs. Xing prevailed upon her contractor to add the necessary reinforcement. "After my neighbors saw my reinforced lintel beam, they all wanted the same thing on their own houses," she says.
"I feel confident in the house," Mrs. Xing says, smiling. Then she adds that Build Change's founder and CEO Elizabeth Hausler had checked the masonry and said it was "ok" - Mrs. Xing gives a thumbs-up sign as she says this. "I think the house will be safe now."