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A helping hand from half a world away

Lehigh students lit candles and raised money for the Sichuan earthquake victims.

For most of Lehigh’s Chinese students, the news of last week’s devastating Sichuan earthquake sent them rushing to televisions and computers to monitor the situation, and to cell phones to check in on friends and family.

But for Wanjun Cao, a teaching assistant in materials science and engineering, the experience was much more immediate.

Cao was in Chengdu, about 50 miles from the quake’s epicenter, when the ground began to move.

“I was quite scared at that time, but I escaped out of the building immediately, and I was not injured,” he wrote two days later in an e-mail to Lehigh colleagues. “The conditions here are pretty good, and the mobile communication services were restored yesterday. The food, water, gas and electrical supplies here are secure, though there are still small earthquakes and a little panic in the city. I have seen some troops are sent to the area which is seriously damaged in the earthquake.”

Cao noted that he and his family were fine, and added, “I hope more and more people could help the people suffering in the earthquake to recover from the tragedy.”

”We are connected by blood”

Weike Wang, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, grew up in Chengdu, and his parents still live there. After several frantic failed phone calls, he finally reached an aunt, who told Wang that his family was unhurt but forced to stay outside to avoid any damage caused by aftershocks.

“Chinese people at Lehigh organized a relief night, and many Chinese students attended,” Wang said. “We watched some videos of the rescue action, and we lit candles. During that night we donated $4,000 for China, and the total amount right now of donations from the Chinese Student Association is around $6,000. We are organizing other donation events on the Lehigh campus in the following days. We cannot reach the earthquake area to help, but we can try to do whatever we can in the U.S.A. to help our country and the cities.”

Those efforts are vital, said Jinqiu Yan, a teaching assistant in Lehigh’s Graduate Programs Office, who grew up and lived for 20 years in a city close to the epicenter.

“It's a great tragedy,” Yan said. “Everyone lost to me is not mere numbers. They are lives. We are connected by blood.”

Liangjie Hong, a graduate student in computer science and engineering, is also from Chengdu and knows “the difficulties of how to get there and how to do the rescues there.” He said the Chinese government’s openness in acknowledging the scope of the disaster was a marked change from past practices, such as its response to the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. Hong added that the media’s much fuller coverage of the Sichuan quake should help shuttle more aid to the area.

“The media, especially newspapers and Internet media, are more active at this time, and more and more reporters and journalists are getting involved in the reporting of this big disaster,” he said. “This is the good side of this disaster.”

Yan praised Chinese soldiers who were rushed to the scene and threw themselves into rescue efforts with little regard for their own safety, and she said she hoped to spread the word not only about lives lost and the financial toll of the quake, but also about the many humanitarian efforts now underway to help the victims.

“Thousands have become orphans, thousands have lost their only child, thousands have lost their loved ones,” Yan said. “Natural disasters could happen anywhere. Regardless of cultural or political differences, at the end of the day our humanity binds us together and urges us to assist those in this tragedy.”

--Tom Durso

Posted on Thursday, May 22, 2008

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