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Small Loan Is Big Help

No dazzling lights, no props. The temporary stage was no more than a small shed in the front yard of a farmer's house. Covered only by colorful waterproof cloth, the 5-sq-m shed was so low that people had to bow their heads to get in.

Inside were being played Western pop songs: the first music to be heard in Qili village after the earthquake.

The humble shed is the most beautiful place he has seen in Sichuan, Randy Kritkausky said. He is overwhelmed by the hospitality and warmth the villagers have extended to him.

The Ecologia president and three other local members of the organization think yesterday's show will encourage the villagers to focus on reconstruction. They have given out small loans to nine families of Dayi county, 40 minute's drive from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan.

A cooperative venture between the American NGO and Sichuan Xuping Rabbit Industry Co, the micro-finance project has given 1,000 yuan (US$143) each to nine families, who have one year to pay back the amount.

"Our goal is to make the devastated farmers capable enough to help themselves. That's why we don't give them money directly," Kritkausky said. "The money they repay will go to the local community to create more facilities."

About 80 percent of the houses in the 250-family Qili village were damaged or destroyed in the quake. But only one elderly villager died because most of the villagers were working in fields when the quake struck.

Xie Bo couldn't hide his excitement after getting the loan. The 28-year-old even sang My Chinese heart at the ceremony, accompanied by his little daughter's dance.

"The money is not much, but it's meaningful," he said. "Even some plain dumplings can make a hungry man happy."

Wang Yu was among the first batch of eight applications to get a loan to develop his rabbit-raising venture two months ago. Now, the 18-year-old is the cashier of the village project.

The procedure to get a loan is simple, Wang said. Three families have to form a unit and submit an application to him to get a loan. After that, project staff will visit the town to check the veracity of their claims.

"The loan will be given in the village rather than a bank, which is convenient for the farmers who always find it difficult to handle paper work," he said.

Eight-year-old Chen Yanping, is the youngest to sign a loan contract. The little girl's father works in the Tibet autonomous region and her grandparents are illiterate, so she had to sign the contract for them.

She does not know how the loan came about, but she does know that her family needed it urgently. Though she is yet to overcome the shock of the quake, she was smiling while playing with other children at the ceremony.

"The world is watching China after the quake, and we saw a great deal of tragedy through the Western media. But what I have discovered here is hope. People smile and even sing what strong character they've got," Kritkausky said.

"I think China's most remarkable event in 2008 should not be just the Beijing Olympic Games, but also the earthquake that has shown the strength and warmth of the Chinese people."

(China Daily May 29, 2008)

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