Half the Sky Foundation

Half the Sky was created in order to enrich the lives of orphaned children in China. We provide model programs and caregiver training designed to offer loving, family-like care to children of all ages and abilities. It is our goal to ensure that every orphaned child has a caring adult in her life and a chance at a bright future..
Jun 12, 2008

Half the Sky Earthquake Update - June 10

Half the Sky’s first Big Top Children’s Center
Half the Sky’s first Big Top Children’s Center

June 10th, 2008

Dear Friends,

Since I last wrote, we’ve been working toward developing a more well-defined plan for addressing the emotional needs of so many thousands of traumatized children. We know we can’t help them all, but we are making certain that, using the resources you are providing us, we will maximize our effectiveness.

Under the guidance of trauma experts from National Center for School Trauma and Bereavement and volunteer pediatric psychologists from China, the US and Canada, our field staff has been training caregivers in shelters and camps and talking with many, many children. What we have learned has informed our long-term plans, which already have tentative approval from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

In the next couple of months, with your help, we will be creating giant tent “Big Top” Children’s Centers in temporary (estimate is 2-3 years) refugee camps at Dujiangyan, near the quake epicenter, to help the children as the town is rebuilt. Each will offer HTS preschool, after school counseling and art classes and other therapeutic activities for school-age children, as well as counseling and training for caregivers, teachers, parents and foster parents. The first “Big Top” is scheduled to open in QinJian camp on Saturday.

Funds permitting, we will also be creating new permanent children’s community centers in six quake-affected towns as well as setting up Family Villages, supporting traditional foster care, and other HTS programs for orphaned children who are able to remain in their communities, providing long-term support for thousands of children.

I stole away for a couple of days in order to write our proposal to the Ministry. In my absence, HTS communications director, Patricia King, wrote this report:

A Machine to Save the World from Earthquakes

“When I grow up I want to be a scientist so I can invent a machine that will predict earthquakes hours before they happen and I can take all the children to safety. And I will give the machine to everybody in the world for free.”

“All I want is to go home.”

“I want to be with my family.”

“I want the earthquake to be gone so we can be happy again.”

Who wouldn’t want to make these wishes of some of the youngest earthquake survivors come true? The wishes of children struggling to come to terms with a disaster that shattered everything they counted on—the rock solid earth they walked on, the mountains that were supposed to loom majestically above, not break apart, raining dangerous rocks, and most of all the comfort of their homes and their parents and teachers.

The children now attend a “tent school” in the large refugee shelter in Dujiangyan designed to house 15,000 people displaced by the earthquake. They are taught by volunteers in prefabricated, vinyl walled, 9×12 classrooms, each one packed with 40+ students.

The walls are decorated with children’s artwork. It is art that depicts the kind of world the children would like to live in, the kind of world they now know can never be. In this town where the most prestigious middle school collapsed and killed so many bright, ambitious students, one child drew a mobile school complete with a lookout telescope and radar to pick up any sign of danger. The school is floating on what looks like a cloud or a flame that can move it out of danger should the earth below start to shake again.

The Red Thread

A short distance from the refugee shelter and school, on a muddy, rock-strewn field, a huge, white tent with arched, plastic windows stands on high ground above the fast-moving Minjiang River. A large Half the Sky logo with its girl holding a red thread announces that this tent has been provided by donors all over the world, moved to help the children of Sichuan to whom they are connected by the proverbial red thread. One, yellow Ikea delivery truck and one truck with a small Half the Sky logo and the words: “Everything Donated to the Disaster Area” bump their way onto the field to deliver supplies for Half the Sky’s first Big Top Children’s Center. In a situation that is repeated over and over in Sichuan when people learn that Half the Sky is here to help the children, the Ikea truck was able to make the delivery only after a compassionate manager made lots of phone calls to bend the rules to allow the truck to deliver to a heavily damaged town.

All week Half the Sky’s field supervisors and other caregivers have been receiving training about how to provide “psychological first aid” to children in the wake of this disaster. Today the work is more familiar, the kind of work Half the Sky has been doing for 10 years during “builds” when rooms in government welfare institution are transformed into colorful, child-friendly Half the Sky centers.

It becomes clear very quickly though that there are unusual logistical issues for this first-ever tent build. The six inch concrete floor that anchors the tent is solid, but two puddles have collected inside after the last big rain storm. Straw brooms appear so the staff can sweep out the water and strategize about how to engineer a fix so the tent will stay dry during this rainy season in Sichuan. They are helped by a contractor from Guangzhou, who is in Sichuan to build roads wherever needed, including a road that will make it easier to walk from the huge refugee shelter and school to Half the Sky’s Big Top.

It is Dragon Boat Festival day and a holiday, but nevertheless workers on ladders bring electricity to the tent, hanging energy-saving bulbs from the aluminum rafters and setting up the fans that will cool the during the increasingly steamy Sichuan summer.

As the small chairs and tables, shelves for toys are assembled, and bright, turquoise chairs unfolded, the tent starts to look more like a Half the Sky center, a kid-friendly haven in an earthquake-ravaged town where the long task of removing rubble and rebuilding has only just begun. The toys will stay in their boxes for the children to open. There are puppet theaters, a toy kitchen with pots and pans and dishes, a doll house with a mom, dad and children. And there are lots of toy trucks and bulldozers, doctor kits, and uncharacteristically for a Half the Sky center, lots of soldiers, who were the first to reach Dujiangyan and other towns near the epicenter to help.

Nothing is the same anymore…

In Shifang City, Half the Sky’s Child Development Director Ma Lang approached a woman reading alone in a communal shelter where people were cooking and eating and two preschoolers were playing with water, “trying to be children.” The woman looked so young that Lang thought she might be a high school student, but she told Ma that she is a 27-year-old math teacher. There was a “calm coolness” in her eyes so MaLang was surprised that her eyes welled up with tears when Ma Lang asked: “How are you doing?” She answered sadly: “It is tough. I have been here all my life. Nothing is the same anymore. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the fields, the crops. Everything else has changed,” she said.

The teacher told Ma Lang that after the earthquake she helped escort all 41 children from her classroom to safety. Then she spent six, panicked hours that seemed like a year looking for her mother and her three-year-old daughter. Ma Lang put a comforting hand on her shoulder as they both found paper tissue and the woman continued with her story.

Then the Air Force came and carefully removed all the children’s school bags and clothes from the heavily damaged building. “It was very dangerous.” When the teachers tried to help, the soldiers said, “No, it is our job.” When the teachers volunteered to at least stand by the building to collect some of the children’s prized possessions, the soldiers said, “No. It is our job. You stay away from the building. It is not safe.” After retrieving the children’s things, the Air Force built a new, prefabricated school named the “Air Force Loves Children School” in six, working-round-the-clock days.

The young math teacher told Ma Lang that such help and such kindness from the Air Force and “so many people like you” has “made a huge difference” in the lives of those who survived the quake. But despite her gratitude for the help and her relief that her mother and three-year-old are alive, the woman told Ma Lang that there have been “many times” during the last weeks when she has wished that she hadn’t survived.

For Ma Lang, who has been working in the field since right after the earthquake, it is “overwhelming” to learn how many children and their caregivers need emotional support, even those “lucky” ones like this teacher, whose child and whose students survived the earthquake.

The psychologists who are helping Half the Sky train field workers stress that patience is key when working with traumatized children or their adult caregivers.

Caregivers in Training
Caregivers in Training
Pediatric Psychologist, Dr. Pi-nian Chang
Pediatric Psychologist, Dr. Pi-nian Chang
Jun 4, 2008

Half the Sky Earthquake Update - June 4

Dear Friends,

It was a Children’s Day with not enough children.

Here in Sichuan, Sunday was filled with both sadness and hope. For those parents who lost their only child, it was a day of immeasurable anguish. For those families still whole or partially intact, it was a time of sad resolve to get on with the task of rebuilding their lives and the lives of their children. For children who survived but lost a parent, schoolmates, teachers, home, the holiday toys and candies were small comfort. Still, life goes on and the children will slowly begin to heal. They will need help.

It is now reported that 7,000 children died on May 12.

But many, many thousands more survived. Thankfully, the numbers truly orphaned are much smaller than first believed.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Civil Affairs told us that 420 children are confirmed orphaned. The government continues to search for living relatives of another 1072. Those numbers, though, represent only a small portion of the many thousands of children who need help.

Children who have lost one parent. Children grieving for their lost parents even as they have been reunited with their grandparents or other extended family. The estimated 16,000 children who were injured during the quakes. And countless others children who are struggling to deal emotionally with the horror they have experienced. These are children whose lives were really just beginning—and now must begin again.

Thanks to your generosity, we have helped the surviving children by bringing them much-needed supplies, including supplies to the stranded children in the isolated mountains of Aba, where roads were buried under landslides, and to the children of Leigu, whose villages were threatened by flood.

Now that we have completed that first phase of our earthquake relief effort, it is time for Half the Sky to help the youngest survivors begin to heal emotionally. Though we have never provided emotional support for children in the wake of a natural disaster, we have over the last decade provided that support for 15,000 children living in social welfare institutions who have lost their families - delivering such care is the essence of Half the Sky.

In preparation for our first workshop with the US National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, our field staff spent last observing and interacting with children living in temporary shelters and welfare institutions. While the world is rejoicing that they survived, many of these children are mourning the friends and family members who did not and wondering why they are the “lucky” ones. Others are in shock, unable to face the pain of loss of those they depended on most.

At a shelter in Chengdu, one middle schooler who was evacuated from Wenchuan told our team:

“The first floor of the school disappeared. The second floor became the first floor. Our teachers were too busy helping us to have time for their own children. We carried two injured students from the collapsed building to a tent on a mountain top. We stayed in the mountains after that and lived on potatoes that weren’t ripe and shared 2-3 Bottles of water among more than 60 of us every day. Later, two students died in the tent. It rained and rained. We knew there could be landslides because we knew a big aftershock could happen at any time, but we didn’t know what to fear any more.”

And our staff filed this heartbreaking report from the Zitong Children’s Welfare Institute:

“A boy arrived at the institution with a bandage on one side of his head. The staff gave him a name and estimated that he is two years old. Every time the institution gate opens he runs to it and says “baba,” “mama,” the only words he knows. The expression of his face is one of sadness and fear without security. There was no smile on this face during the whole time we were there.”

On Monday, in cooperation with the MCA and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, we held our first Sichuan Caregiver Training Project workshop at the Chengdu CWI, a milestone on that long road to bring emotional relief to the children. While we tried to keep the first workshop small, because we knew that we needed to have time and interactive discussion in order to make plans for the next steps, it was not possible. The need for caregiver support is just too great. By the workshop’s second day, we included 90 volunteers who’d been working in shelters as well as administrators from the two largest shelters in Chengdu. There will be no shortage of trainees as our field staff and experts head out into hard-hit areas today.

We know that with this workshop our new work is just beginning .we have pledged to work with other organizations and with government to help the children in Sichuan for as long as help is needed. By the end of this week, we expect to be able to report more fully on our midterm and longterm plans in Sichuan. We anticipate that the work may last for 2-3 years. Thank you!

With love,

Jenny

Ps – For our many new friends - Half the Sky is a global NGO that establishes and operates programs that provide emotional and educational support for orphaned children living in 38 government-run social welfare institutions in China.

Half the Sky does not operate orphanages. It is not an adoption agency.

We exist for China’s children.

May 28, 2008

Half the Sky Earthquake Update - May 26-28

HTS staff, volunteers and our friends from the army took a dange
HTS staff, volunteers and our friends from the army took a dange

Dear Friends,

First, an update on the airlift to remote Aba Prefecture. No less than 40 uniformed soldiers arrived at the Chengdu CWI yesterday to load two big trucks with emergency goods for the 1,000 stranded children of Aba. We’re waiting now for confirmation of the air drop.

This week HTS also erected a giant BigTop at the Chengdu CWI to aid with intake and shelter for new arrivals.

Ma Lang and Yang Lei, two of our intrepid team members traveled to Leigu, in hard-hit Beichuan, along with some young volunteers from the Jiuzhou Stadium. They knew the situation was dire, as this is the site of one of the “quake lakes” threatening to overflow. But they also knew there were more than 2,000 children of all ages in those villages and they needed help. I am so happy and relieved to tell you that the mission was a huge success!

I have placed photos of raising the big tent, loading relief goods for Aba and delivery of goods to Leigu on our website. Please visit http://www.halfthesky.org/work/earthquake08.php

On Saturday, after we complete delivery of balance of requested relief goods, we will erect a second and even larger BigTop tent in the largest refugee settlement at Dujiangyan City, close to the epicenter of the earthquake. This will become a huge Half the Sky children’s activity center for refugee children of all ages, complete with furnishings, toys, computers, areas for art and dramatic play and reading and quiet talk, everything that a HTS center offers. With your help, this center will serve thousands of children as their lives and homes are rebuilt. And, although we’ve already been busily working and planning, it will mark the official beginning of the second phase of our efforts - addressing the current and longterm emotional needs of the children.

I want to tell you more about the Sichuan Caregiver Training Project that HTS has launched in partnership with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the US-based National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement. Thanks to one of our supporters, we were put in touch with David Schonfeld,director of the NCSCB and perhaps the world’s foremost authority on child bereavement. Since its inception after 9/11, the NCSCB has counseled and been a resource for governments, schools and organizations, especially those confronted by large numbers of children traumatized by disaster. From hurricanes to wars to school shootings, this organization has a long history and understanding of child trauma, what to expect and how best to respond.

Half the Sky is so fortunate to have the NCSCB’s help as we embark on this journey. There are so many unknowns for all of us - We at HTS have never tried to provide services mid-disaster - and our advisers from the NCSCB have not much experience working in China. Knowing we can rely on each other's expertise, I feel confident that HTS, and other NGOs that we hope will join us in this effort, can have substantial impact, both in these early days and down the road as the long process of recovery unfolds.

During the weekend, I toured hard-hit towns, children’s shelters and orphanages with the MCA, trying to get an overview of the situation. HTS’ director, child development, Ma Lang has, of course, been in Sichuan since May 16 on our behalf and was able to give us a great deal of information and insight. This week, a team of seasoned HTS field supervisors, one from each of our programs, is doing a more detailed assessment under the guidance of Ma Lang: Zhang Yuxia, Yang Lei, Zhou Dan and Anni Wang. They will give us their full report on Sunday, but here’s an excerpt from Anni on the first day of observation. The need for trauma-training for caregivers is immense:

“In the tent school, as I was looking around the room, my eyes caught a little girl who was holding her school bag very tightly. She had one of the saddest faces I have ever seen and it felt like she didn’t want to be in the classroom. She kept holding her bag and looking at the exit behind, as if she were waiting for someone. When the ‘fun activity class’ started again, she still held her bag, but then later put it down and tried to follow the teacher’s instructions. She was one of the shortest children in class but sat in the back row.

“In the ‘fun class’, the teacher kept saying: “if you are happy, smile…. And clapping his hands and he said that a few times walking round the room but the little girl I mentioned didn’t smile. Not even once. I was not sure which of the children in the room were smiling because they were happy or because they were sort of asked to smile. However, I suppose the fun activities will be a distraction (at least for the time being) for children who may have lost a parent or close relative. When I was leaving the room, I waved to the little girl and she sadly waved back.”

On June 2-3, we will host a workshop for all HTS field supervisors, program directors and representatives from the MCA and CAB as well as two expert field advisors who will supervise field work in the next phase.

Leading the workshop on behalf of NCSCB: Robin Gurwitch, PhD - Professor in Dept. of Pediatrics at University of Oklahoma, Program Coordinator for the US National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement; Marleen Wong, PhD - Director of Crisis Counseling and Intervention Services at the Los Angeles Unified School District; and Suh Chen Hsiao, LCSW PPSC - Psychiatric Social Worker, Team Leader at the Los Angeles Unified School District, Specialist in Crisis Intervention.

On June 4-14, with expert advisors - Pi-Nian Chang PhD, pediatric psychologist at the University of Minnesota, Dan Zhang, MD, PhD, psychologist, counselor, Vancouver Community College, worked with survivors of Tangshan earthquake – HTS will commence field trainings for caregivers, coordinated by Sichuan provincial CAB.

Afterwards, Half the Sky will continue to work closely with government and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement to develop a long-term plan based both on the NCSCB’s extensive experience with the effect on children of similar catastrophic events and also what is learned during the two week period in the field. It is sincerely hoped that, during the next two weeks, many, many children will be reunited with, if not their parents, surviving family members. For those children who, sadly, cannot be reunited, Half the Sky will continue to assist as best as it can to help mitigate the long-term effects of this disaster.

Half the Sky is a small organization. We are limited by our charter to serving orphaned children. We hope that other child-focused NGOs will join us and the government in outreach. There are many thousands of children who have surviving relatives but who are nevertheless traumatized and need help.

Rebecca Chang grew up in an orphanage in China and, with HTS’ Big Sisters Program support, went to university. When she graduated, we offered her an internship in our Beijing office. She has now become a field supervisor in the Big Sisters Program and is helping us now in Sichuan. She understands the children of this tragedy perhaps better than any of us. She sent us this story:

“The place was so dead when we arrived, everything was still, only wind was blowing. I saw a boy standing in front of the rubble of the school for a long time without a blink. I went up to him and said hi.

I asked: which grade were you in? He said quietly: Fourth grade. I squatted and said: Why are you always standing here? I saw tears coming up in his eyes. He said: My classmates are gone. Teacher Gao got injured because of me! I didn’t know what I could say that would make him feel better. I just reached out my hand and held his. His hand was cold, so cold. When I was about to leave, I was trying to hold back my tears and asked: What do you want to do the most now? He lowered his head and answered in a shaking voice, ‘I want to go to school, but my school is not here any more.’”

Thank you!

With love,

Jenny

Chengdu CWI: Soldiers helped HTS bring emergency supplies to 1,0
Chengdu CWI: Soldiers helped HTS bring emergency supplies to 1,0
Chengdu CWI: HTS erects the first
Chengdu CWI: HTS erects the first 'BigTop' to help the orphanage

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