Hélène Franchineau 2013-10-08 10:02:22
Typhoon Morakot devastated Taiwan. Aided by LCIF, Multiple District 300 Taiwan Lions have given vulnerable villagers a safe haven for the next typhoon or earthquake. Nestled in Nantou County in the heart of the island of Taiwan, Tongfu Junior High School is reached by taking a zigzagging, shoestringlike road. The nearest town is two hours away. Ninety-percent of its students are Taiwanese aborigines, whose homes are scattered among the nearby mountain slopes. The school looks out on a spectacular vista of palm trees leading to an opulent tropical forest. In the summer the school disappears into the mists that creep from the steep mountainsides. Tongfu Junior High School could be considered an idyllic location, were it not for the dangers brought about every summer by the typhoon season. The doomsday people feared arrived in August 2009. For four days the Morakot typhoon pounded Taiwan. Rainfall in one day alone equaled the annual amount. The nation suffered its worst flooding since 1959. Nearly 700 people died–the worst typhoon in the nation’s recorded history. Flags throughout the nation flew at half-staff for three days. In a protected location, Tongfu Junior High School avoided the landslides and mudslides. But the families, who have lived on the mountainsides long before the Han Chinese immigrated here in the 17th century, were at the mercy of unleashed nature. “Every year we would get flooding during typhoon season,” says Xie Zaikun, the chief of Shenmu, the village closest to the school. “Then Morakot happened. The rivers submerged everything. It was as if the mountains moved.” Lions from Multiple District 300 Taiwan made donations. Lions worldwide contributed funds to LCIF, which issued multiple Emergency grants and then a Major Catastrophe grant to Lions in Multiple District 300. Lions there decided the best course of action was to offer a plan of escape when typhoons inevitably struck again. Lions built four shelters to serve as evacuation points for the local population when a typhoon hit. The multipurpose buildings, costing US$4 million, also serve as activity centers for everyday life. The shelters are much-needed venues for medical services, vocational training and classroom instruction. Tongfu Junior High School was chosen to receive one of the multi-functional shelters. The oval-shaped athletic field in front of the school and the location between two mountains, Ho-so and Dong-pu, made the school an ideal choice for a helicopter landing. Taiwan is located on a major seismic fault, and the onestory building is robust enough to withstand earthquakes. The roof is made of a special fireproof material. It has its own electricity supply, and two water towers can provide enough water for 200 people for an entire week. Wen Liyuan, the project manager and past 300 C3 district governor, drove three times a week several hours from his office in Taichung city to the school to inspect the construction. “We chose to build the shelter next to the school because the location is safe. Also for years, the children here did not really have a place to play sports. We wanted to remedy that,” he says. Children practice badminton or volleyball inside the shelter. On the spacious stage bands play or people sing karaoke–a passion for most Asian people. “There is a handicapped access,” says Shen Mingren, the school principal. “We provide to schoolchildren but also nearby villagers a big building where they can gather for weddings, funerals and festivals.” To show how important it was to anchor the building into the community, its exterior façade is adorned with black and red drawings, typical to the high-mountain Bunun minority that lives in the area. “Before this was built, we would sleep in our cars during the typhoons,” says Xie, the village chief. “So we are especially happy to have a place like this. We are very grateful to the Lions.” The school children can vividly recall what happened during the two days Morakot devastated the area. “I was terrified. We were completely isolated.” said Chen Jiajun, 15. “If the roads are blocked, at least now we can stay at school inside the building and play.” Before, the students were stuck in their dormitory building. About three hours away from the school is Ali Mountain. One of the most famous scenic sites of Taiwan also bears the brunt of many typhoons and other natural calamities every year. The torrential flow of water during Morakot destroyed two dozen bridges in Ali Mountain County. Seven families lost their homes completely, and 300 were affected one way or another. “When there is a typhoon, I usually sleep on the sofa in my office to help coordinate the rescue effort,” says Chen Mingli, the Ali Mountain county mayor. “After Morakot, I slept there for two months.” Due to the gradually improving relations between China and Taiwan, groups of Chinese tourists are in greater number coming to see Ali Mountain. On the sides of the steep road leading to its summit, workers pick up fresh leaves of Oolong tea. A type of Arabica coffee that is increasingly popular for coffee connoisseurs also grows on the mountain, which helps spur the economy of the 12 villages here, home to the Tsou minority. Now halfway to the Ali Mountain summit, on a flat terrain, stands the newly built emergency and relief shelter. Chen Kunmao, the past 300 D-1 district governor (where Ali Mountain is located), says it was important to locate the 1,000 square-meter shelter close to the danger zone. “The location is convenient because it is close to the potential disaster area. The land is flat so it is safe. Helicopters can land here and we have easy access to government offices,” he says. “Before, the only place the population could be evacuated to was an army shelter, but it was some one hour and thirty minutes away,” he adds. Inside the building, which can accommodate 240 people, rows of mattresses populate the ground and first floors. “We are still waiting for bunk beds,” says Tom Jun, head of Social Services for Ali Mountain County. On the first floor are a karaoke machine and a flat screen TV. The Taiwanese government completed a study that found that about 300 families in the county were the most at risk during a typhoon or an earthquake. When a disaster strikes, these designated houses receive a notice to evacuate. “Some will take care of themselves, some will move to their relatives and we take care of the rest,” says Tom. “About 200 people cannot find shelter. We are here to help them.” “We have coffee, tea and mattresses where people can sleep. There is no time limit for the people to stay. Our first concern is safety,” he says. Similar to the Tongfu Junior High School, the shelter building in Ali Mountain is also widely used throughout the year. “During normal times, people like coming here,” says Tom. “All the furniture is foldable so we can quickly remove it to hold meetings, for example.” The shelter provides peace of mind. People know they have a place to flee to when a disaster strikes. “We are very thankful to have this building,” says Shi Zhiying, a 24- year-old handyman at the shelter. Taiwan typically experiences five big typhoons annually, and last year the shelters were used several times. Says Past International Director Pei-Jen Chen, instrumental to the four projects, “This is an example of a great project because we truly can save lives.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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