China Honors OB for Quake Efforts

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YAOJIN, China - Tuesday marks the one year anniversary of the earthquake that struck China killing some 90,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

Survivors are remembering the day with mixed emotions as some begin to move into new homes. 

Operation Blessing has been in the quake zone since day one, helping in recovery and rebuilding.  Now, Operation Blessing's work is getting national attention on the anniversary date.

The Day 'Everything' Changed

Li Fangbi, 66, has lived in Yaojin village for 40 years.

"It took me all those years of hard work to save up enough money to buy my house," she recalled.  "But suddenly, in a matter of seconds that day, it was all gone."

At 2:28 p.m. on May 12, 2008, a powerful earthquake struck about an hour's drive from Fangbi's home in China's Sichuan province.

"I quickly ran outside and started screaming for my husband to get out.  That's when the house started to crumble," she said.

Some 54 other families in Yaojin lost everything that day.

"I've never experienced such horror and sadness in my life," Fangbi proclaimed.

Operation Blessing Steps In

Twelve months later, the village is anything but a place of horror and sadness.  Thanks to a unique partnership between Operation Blessing and the Chinese government, the tiny corner of the earthquake zone is rising from the rubble.

In an innovative approach, Operation Blessing adopted the entire village of Yaojin.

"It is a huge commitment to make.  An undertaking like this, it is a very expensive project," said Operation Blessing's David Darg.  "It's not one house. It's 54 homes."

Darg is overseeing Operation Blessing's rebuilding work in Yaojin. 

"The villagers were living in temporary shelters and very bad conditions, and we knew we had to get them out of those and into new homes as quickly as possible," he explained.

Ten months after the earthquake, in a grand celebration, a ceremonial key was handed over to the mayor of Yaojin.  All 54 homes were rebuilt and the villagers started to move in. 

"These new homes are nothing like what we had before," said one resident, Zhu Shihui.  "You've spent the money to build us strong homes that can withstand another strong earthquake."

Residents Give Thanks

Shihui, a long-time resident of the village, threw a house-warming party for family, friends and members of the Operation Blessing team.

"We will never forget you guys," he told them.   "You did such a good thing. How can we ever repay you?"

With so many parties to attend, Fangbi had to wait her turn to honor the Operation Blessing team.

"When I think about the anniversary I feel sad, but then I look around and see what has happened since and I have so much to be thankful for.  We could never afford to rebuild a new home but Operation Blessing and this partnership has made this dream a reality.")

Villagers spent this past week painting and putting the final touches to their new homes in preparation for Tuesday's anniversary.

Operation Blessing's president Bill Horan says it's remarkable to see how the villagers, along with local officials, the central government and Operation Blessing, worked together to make Yaojin a reality.

"We all pushed in the same direction and the result is evident," he said.  "The result is a completely rebuilt village that has risen up from the ashes."

China Takes Note

The accomplishment got the attention of China's state-run news agencies.  Tuesday, during a prime-time anniversary special, CCTV, the main television network, will air a documentary featuring Operation Blessing's Yoajin project.  Horan will be a guest on the show.

"This is so significant because hundreds of millions of Chinese people will for the first time get to see what Operation Blessing has done with our partnership to help the survivors of the earthquake," said James Xiao of Operation Blessing China.

Earlier in the week, Operation Blessing held a photo exhibit and press conference in Beijing highlighting the work in Yaojin. Members of the national media and several top government officials were there.

"I'm not just impressed that Operation Blessing built these houses but now they are engaging in the next phase of restoration by starting a chicken farm and piggery business in the village that will help sustain long-term recovery," said Qin Wei China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation.

Nothing But God

Li Zhaoxing, a senior member of China's foreign affairs team and a former ambassador to the U.S., hosted a dinner in honor of Operation Blessing.  Operation Blessing is celebrating 10 years of humanitarian work in China this year.

Horan says the Yaojin project is one more example of Operation Blessing's long-term commitment to helping the people of China.

"The mayor of Yaojin put his hand on my shoulder and he said, we've never seen love like this," he said.  "We don't understand it.  It must be God. It can't be human."

* This story originally aired on May 13, 2009.

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