Sunday, November 20, 2011

My travels to visit NGOs in Sichuan

I realize it's been a while since I've posted.  China Development Brief just started a new project involving the updating of the Chinese NGO Directory that was last done in 2001.  Much has changed since then, and the number of NGOs has grown rapidly, so we thought it was high time for a new directory.  This one will focus on the more independent, grassroots, public interest NGOs, unlike the old one which included a number of GONGOs.

I just realized how big an undertaking this directory is when I took a trip to Sichuan to visit some NGOs in Chongqing and Chengdu to get a better sense of the NGO situation in the southwest.  I visited Wu Dengming's Green Volunteer League (GVL) which is one of the oldest environmental NGOs in the country, having been established in 1995, a year after Friends of Nature.  Wu is a feisty and energetic 72 years old and is still as active as ever.  I interviewed him about his life and we talked for about 4 hours.  In between, he was visited by two Europeans who were making a documentary about water in China and wanted to interview Wu over the next two weeks.   Wu told me there were now a few more NGOs in Chongqing, which used to be a backwater for NGOs.

My next stop took me to the 512 Voluntary Relief Services Center, which started as a network of NGOs that responded to the Sichuan earthquake.  I've written in a number of places about this Center which is led by the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Gao Guizi and Guo Hong.  Guo Hong is a sociologist and NGO researcher at the Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences where the 512 Center is located.  I'd visited them twice before over the last few years, and it was good to see them again.  Gao took me down the alley next to the Academy where we sat and had a simple bowl of zhajiang mian, which I thought was a Beijing-style noodle dish, but Gao told me Sichuan has its own version of the noodles, less sauce and just some ground pork sprinkled over a bowl of noodles with a little spicy saucy at the bottom.  I was told I had to stir the noodles around to get the sauce mixed in.  It was very satisfying, and I have to say, better than the Beijing version.  And only 6 RMB!  

Both Gao and Guo are very thoughtful, knowledgeable observers of the NGO scene, especially in Sichuan, and they spent about 3 hours talking to me about the numerous NGOs that have emerged in the province.  I was impressed.  It seems that Sichuan may have supplanted Yunnan as the center of NGOs in southwest China.