Doing more.

Credit: Tamdin Wangdu, Tibetan Village Project

I was raised with an acute awareness of the suffering of others. Giving and doing were always part of my childhood. And as I grew in my capacity to give and to serve, that impulse morphed into being a donor and, where I could, serving as a director or trustee for organizations whose missions I valued. I even helped start a few not-for-profit organizations from scratch.

And then, at 7:49 a.m. on April 14th, an earthquake struck Yushu County in the Qinghai Province of China. Yushu is a predominately Tibetan area on the border of Qinghai, Sichuan and the Tibetan Autonomous Region.  The earthquake killed roughly 2,300 people; injured more than 10,000; and destroyed about 85 percent of the houses in Jiegu, a town of 100,000 people.


Qinghai, China

And with that I knew I had to do more. I had to do something other than write a check or opine thoughtfully at a conference table. I had to do more than provide pro bono services or volunteer to teach some students about leadership. Or start yet another organization.

So now I’m doing more: I’m going to Yushu.

In September, I’ll travel with Tamdin Wangdu of the Tibetan Village Project (TVP) to help victims of the earthquake by assisting in bringing in supplies. Tamdin and I will fly to Chengdu where we’ll purchase tents and load them into a truck for delivery to Yushu. If we drive straight from Chengdu, we should reach Yushu in about three days. We’ll then spend at least five days distributing tents and other supplies.

There’s a particular need for warmer, more durable tents for those left homeless by the quake. Initial aid distribution (by the government or under its direction) included one tent per family, regardless of the size of the family. So, for example, a family of eight has to share a single, 12 foot x 12 foot tent.

The average altitude in most earthquake-affected areas is about 13,000 feet (4000 meters) and the area is incredibly windy. Yushu is cold; overnight temperatures in the spring and summer hover around -5°C/23°F. Moreover, winter comes early to the Tibetan Plateau.

Credit: Tamdin Wangdu, Tibetan Village Project

To help fund the effort, I’m hoping to raise $15,000 for additional tents; we hope they’ll last at least three years while homes are being rebuilt. (I’m using the crowd-sourced fundraising platform to make giving even easier.) TVP has found a factory in Chengdu that makes high quality tents for the Chinese military. The tents are 22 square meters in size; made from canvas, insulated with a cotton-like material; heavy enough to withstand rainstorms, snow and strong wind; and durable enough to last at least three years. These tents are ideal for families with children since they have space to store a few folding beds, a stove, and other necessities.

To spur this, I’ll match each dollar contributed one for one up to an additional $15,000. Each tent costs $345; $30,000 will buy a lot of tents.

I know. It feels like it’s been a hell of a year, a year where the Earth maybe has had it with us: earthquakes, floods, and that oil drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Just this past weekend, the New York Times documented the heart-breaking, unbearable conditions in Haiti. I know there are thousands of other calls on your attention and your money.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve never really participated in a broadcast, widespread fundraising effort like this.

But this feels different. The lack of attention this particular disaster has received, for example, is startling. A few really well informed folks I know completely missed the fact that this earthquake even happened. So a large part of my goal, beyond raising the money, is to bring attention to the fact that this happened, that these people are hurting, and that this need is there.

TVP is one of a handful of non-political, non-government organizations operating in the area. When they aren’t doing disaster relief, they’re dedicated to promoting sustainable development while preserving the rich cultural heritage of Tibet. When we’re in the area, we’ll also be meeting with local businesses, trying to help them re-establish themselves. Hands on relief work coupled with creating micro-enterprises; this is the kind of doing more I’ve been waiting to do for a very long time.

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  • kwilding

    Awesome Jerry. I am glad you are working with TVP. Wish I could accompany you, and I certainly support the tent project. Thanks and love, Karen

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Karen. And thanks for introducing me to Tamdin.

  • Jeff

    A noble and significant effort on your part. I was not aware of this partucular disaster. Why did it not not receive the attention of the others. Was it knocked out of the media by the oil spill?

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Jeff. I think it was a bunch of things that conspired to keep the news from the front pages here. It can feel so overwhelming.

  • Abhay Vardhan

    I had not heard of this disaster. Wish you the best in your efforts!

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Abhay. Yeah…that’s part of the problem…

  • panterosa,

    I was surprised by the Tibet story not being acknowledged more. I wondered how much people shy from it because of the political scene and China as being rather ongoing and intractable.

    When the quake hit Haiti, my first response was to start designing. A while back I saw a beautiful design for a rain poncho which became an individual tent in translucent plastic like drugstore raincoats. Sadly that item was sold for $1,000 or thereabouts as a high end designer item.

    I felt individual pop up tents could be made to be raised on poles in the day for shade, and cover a few sleeping people at night. I chose mylar, a favorite material for its heat reflection and heat retention properties. The whole thing should fold into a mylar backpack and weigh little enough for a child or elderly person to carry with them. Other things in the kit would be mylar with printed cut lines, tape, cord, and scissors/cutting device to assemble garments to warm people who have lost garments or need more. For example, you can make booties, ponchos, hats. Flexible poles would be included for the tents and would fold up. I have some strung ones for an Ikea kid’s tent.

    Such a pack should cost 5 dollars to make. It would be valid for warm and cold climates, and could be distributed easily due to it’s compact nature and light weight. I would love to find a partner for this idea.

    I think more design like this should be available at a low cost and to the government/aid agencies. We should be better prepared to serve those in need.

  • Charlie Crystle

    I understand the inclination. I spent years and tens of thousands of dollars trying to move the needle on issues around street kids in Central America. Some efforts can feel satisfying; others feel as though I’m pushing on a string–the macro issues/forces can overwhelm individual effort easily.

    I’m glad to hear you’re doing this, and hope you’re able to have some positive impact.

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks Charlie. I remember your efforts with those kids.

  • Tereza

    Jerry has anyone published an Op Ed on this?

    If not, should you? :-)

    I’ve become connected with a great bunch of people at the Op Ed Project ( who are amazing at this.

    It was designed initially to get more women’s voices heard, but now it is about getting unheard voices heard.

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  • Jamyong drolma

    The earthquake was terrible! We really appreciate the tents…these tents helped so many people in Yushu…people are still living in those tents now…Thanks!

    • jerrycolonna

      You know you’re welcome, Jaymong Drolma. It’s heart-breaking that people are still struggling to rebuild their lives.