This month we have three dispatches: Jean Chung returns to earthquake ravaged Sichuan province in China, Paul Taggart investigates the circumstances of Georgian refugees from the 1990 Georgian-Abkhaz war and Max Whittaker meets residents of a tent city for the homeless in the heart of a gambling center—Reno. As a whole, all these stories show the many different faces and hopes of internal refugees (words never used in the States).
After the massive earthquake in May, Jean Chung visited the province briefly and was anxious to get back and see if there was any improvement in the people’s harsh reality. She found modern temporary housing sometimes with all the advantages of a modern village: schools, police stations, playgrounds and hospitals. The Chinese refugees were not in tents or hunkered down in broken buildings. The school openings are especially poignant because thousands of school children were killed in collapsed structures. Buildings and homes need rebuilt; orphaned children start a life without their parents, parents are without children and other huge problems remain.
Abkhazia, a reluctant province of Georgia, was much in the news recently when the Georgian government bombed the capital, moving troops in to settle regional problems and then Russian forces advanced into the territory to push the Georgians out. Over a decade earlier in the 1990s Abkhazia tried to secede from the country of Georgia setting off a brutal war with ethnic cleansing of Georgians from the province.
Paul Taggart traveled to Georgia recently to see how the different waves of refugees were coping. He was particularly interested in those from the 1990s. While he found that they were still squatting in unheated, crumbling buildings from a grand-Russian-resort past with no running water or sanitation, these families had built new lives. Through gardens, winemaking and hopes for their children’s future, they have managed in Taggart’s words, “to build a life.” Looking at the situation at long-distance, though, it doesn’t seem to bode well for recent refugees. How will all these people integrate into society and contribute to the future of the country?
In America the economic crisis, housing foreclosures, unemployment and shrinking businesses have contributed to homelessness. Reno, Nevada is not particularly a place where Americans would expect to see many people without homes; it is another gaming city with casinos and hotels where people travel to win and lose large amounts of money. For Max Whittaker the idea of visiting a tent city for the homeless in the shadows of the casinos was deeply ironic: he muses on the gigantic Wall Street bailout in light of Americans living in tents.
The site had been set up because of a local crisis in housing the homeless. A chain-link fence with security cameras surrounds it. In part, this probably keeps the residents safer but lends an air of living like a hamster. Whittaker makes the point that many of these people are working but don’t make enough money to move out to apartments. By closing with an image and story of a woman who had just started a full-time job, he reflects the hopes of all the homeless.