Dengke is on the Tibetan Plateau, at a height of 3,500 m, 800 miles west of Chengdu, in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, China. It was the site of the first hovercraft base by the side of the Yangtze River established in 1990 by the British Hovercraft Expedition to China en-route to the source.
Prior to this, in 1987, whilst planning a 'reccie' in China and pouring over a German map, Professor Mel Richardson MBE and Squadron Leader Mike Cole OBE decided to divide the first thousand miles of the river into equal stretches, where fuel dumps could be laid down. Thus it just happened that the village of Dengke, later to become so close to Mel's heart, lined up alongside the first of several equally spaced knots on a length of string, conveniently laid out like a snake along the winding path of the river on the map. So you can say he was "led" to this village by a knot on a piece of string. Our Maker works in mysterious ways!
Whilst camping just outside this same village in 1990, Mel was deeply moved when an old goat-herd gave him one of his only possessions - a sling-shot made of goat and yak hair. Likewise, a young urchin girl named Udren gave up her only toy - a beat-up rubber ball for Captain Rob Watson, one of the hovercraft pilots, to give his daughter in the UK. This extreme generosity prompted Mel to promise to the village, to the old and the young, that one day he would return to help them. Thus, in setting up a new charity called the The Care and Share Foundation, and leading and planning numerous Project Dengke Expeditions from 1992 to the present day, he was keeping his promise. Now he is ably assisted by Glyn Davies and a Management Team of Val Thomson, John Glasby, Dr David Vernon, Amanda Barnes and others. A dedicated group of fellow helpers plus the Kunde Foundation with Dr Ray Pinniger and friends are also helping to provide longer term personnel support.
Since 1992, Mel has led a regular series of major mercy missions to the Dengke area. The outstanding success of these ventures have also included unscheduled mountain rescues later to be featured worldwide in the "Readers Digest" and a BBC TV “999 International Special" programme. By combining the scientific skills of Sichuan and Shanghai Jiao Tong Universities (where he is Visiting Professor), Pingxiang Municipal Government (where is Economic Advisor and Honorary Chinese Citizen) and the University of Portsmouth (where he holds the Emeritus Chair of Manufacturing) he has sought to share appropriate technology and expertise with the local people. This has been carried out in concert with institutions and companies across the Globe.
Collaborative projects have included:
- Solar water purifiers
- Pumps and cookers
- Health care
- Eye and dental surgery
- Leprosy support and physiotherapy
- Nature conservation
- Low cost satellite communications
- Bio-composite materials
- Water and bridge engineering
- Teaching and drama
Project Dengke expresses the spirit of exchange and collaboration intended by the special "twinning" arrangement between Sichuan Province (PRC) and Leicestershire County (UK).