On a rural plateau in the mountainous region of China's Qinghai province, relief efforts are moving slowly in the wake of the April 14 earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people. Conditions are worst in Jiegu, the central population center for Yushu county, where the 6.9-magnitidude quake struck hardest.
Rescue workers say they pulled at least 1,500 people from the rubble, but efforts are now focused on the survivors. Reaching the living is hard for workers: Traffic on the single, rural road to Jiegu backs up for miles while thousands of villagers left homeless by the quake wait for relief and endure below-freezing temperatures at night.
While they wait for reinforcements, the steady stream of rescue workers are aided mostly by Buddhist monks in red robes, who spend their days digging through rubble, distributing emergency supplies, and cremating the dead. Officials say it may take months before the region is open to more volunteers.
Still, determined volunteers are finding ways to reach the area. Frank Li, director of the North Carolina-based Agape Way, a Christian ministry aimed at helping people in China through educational and relief projects, said two of his group's workers reached the area on Sunday.
Agape Way workers already know about earthquake relief: The group has a team of 20 workers in the Sichuan province, Li's birthplace and the site of a 2008 earthquake that killed some 80,000 people. The workers are still building homes for the quake victims there, and quickly sent two of their team members to scout opportunities to serve at the new quake site.
The trip wasn't easy: The two workers drove more than 27 hours straight to Yushu county in a van loaded with blankets, winter clothes, and dry food to distribute to quake victims. After a brief stop, and a bout with altitude sickness, the pair pressed on to Yushu, and according to Li, reported "terrible" conditions.
Li said the group has been eager to reach the Buddhist region with practical service: "Not just to go there to talk, but to really do work, and let people see who we are. Then we earn the opportunity to tell them why we do it." In time, he hopes to take along volunteers to help with re-building efforts. "But we aren't just building houses," he said. "We try to reach a whole community with God's love."
Li said that so far Chinese authorities have allowed his group's work to go forward, though they often ask questions. "We tell them we do not have a political agenda," said Li. "We have a heavenly agenda."