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Swiss help build new Sichuan kindergarten from the quake rubble

A new kindergarten designed in the shape of a dragon, symbol of power and the Chinese people, is rising from the ashes of the Sichuan earthquake, thanks to the Swiss community. Sam Riley reports.

In the aftermath of last year's Sichuan earthquake, the Swiss community in China looked for ways to make a lasting difference in the quake-ravaged areas of the province.

Construction will begin later this month on a specially designed kindergarten in Sichuan that is the product of Swiss know-how, expertise and hard work.

More than 6.25 million yuan (US$916,295) has been raised through the Swiss Chambers of Commerce and Swiss companies in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. The project is still 750,000 yuan short.

The business community has cooperated closely with the Swiss Embassy in Beijing and the consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The Swiss Club in Shanghai and the Swiss Society in Beijing have also supported the School and Housing Sponsorship Project started by SwissCham Shanghai.

Stephan Titze, co-president of the project's steering committee, says the initiative came in response to an immediate desire in the wake of the earthquake to do something practical to help.

"At the time people wanted to do something and the communities came together. We felt we could do this project rather than just hand out the money," he says.

"It is a project that can help to make something tangible, although it has been difficult to manage a project like this. Our people wanted to know that we did something real."

Many employees of Swiss companies and members of the Swiss community also wanted to volunteer, says Titze.

While many volunteer hours have already been committed to the project, work in landscaping, training teachers and providing school materials will provide ongoing volunteer opportunities.

On May 20 members of the Swiss community will travel to the Longxing Town in Chongzhou City for the groundbreaking ceremony of the town's new kindergarten for as many as 250 children.

The old kindergarten was destroyed in the earthquake last May 12. The new seven-classroom school shaped like a dragon was designed by Swiss Architectural firm Virtuarch.

Titze, members of the steering committee and representatives of the Swiss diplomatic community in China will attend the ceremony.

There are temporary arrangements for the children to continue their schooling but the new kindergarten will be built at the other end of the village where new construction is underway. Some parts of the county have been fully repaired; in other parts, the damaged structures must be torn down.

Swiss companies have donated construction materials and other goods for the school and the project will use local businesses where possible to stimulate the town's economy.

Specialist building advice from insurance giant Zurich will ensure the school will be earthquake-resistant. The project will provide training for local construction firms on environmentally sustainable construction.

Construction will begin in June and organizers hope classrooms will be ready for students by November. The entire project will be completed by January, 2010.

There are also plans for teachers to upgrade their skills by receiving training in Shanghai kindergartens. Titze says it is hoped this training will be provided on an ongoing basis.

"We want the teachers to work at a local school here voluntarily for a couple of months to gain training and knowledge that they can then take back," Titze says.

"There are a couple of companies here that are interested in providing money to support this and continue the vocational training, so it doesn't just become a one-off thing."

The project is still 750,000 yuan short of the 7 million yuan required and further donations will be gratefully received.

Those interested in donating can visit SwissCham Shanghai's Website at


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