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!
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.
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.’”
I want first to give you an update on our efforts to get food and shelter to the 1,000 orphaned and displaced children in Aba. The roads are now closed. We asked our colleagues at the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) to see if we can possibly bring the desperately-needed goods in by helicopter. A couple of hours ago, moments after the latest giant aftershock, we got good news – a helicopter for Aba tomorrow! More soon -
Yesterday morning, when I arrived in Chengdu, I was invited by MCA to visit some of the hardest-hit sites. We visited Dujiangyan – very close to the epicenter. It was a painful day (I’ve put a few photos on our website http://www.halfthesky.org/work/earthquake08.php - some just too sad to write about) but I was also heartened to see both how quickly the government has come in and tried to take care of the basics - building thousands of temporary shelters and schools – and how the people have come together to help each other. A sign in one of the tent cities reads, “The earthquake has destroyed our homes but it can’t break our spirit.”
Today we visited Mianyang Zitong CWI. A 6.4 aftershock struck moments before we arrived at the orphanage. All of the children were rushed outside and, in what’s become routine now, they all sat calmly in little chairs. There were 8 new arrivals – all of them had lost their parents.
It seems they are not brought to the orphanages until officials are fairly certain that they will not be claimed by extended family. One little boy told us in a matter-of-fact way that both his parents were killed. Ma Lang, HTS’ director of child development, after days assisting the displaced children staying at the Jiuzhou stadium observed, “From the volunteers’ and counselors’ perspectives, the children’s most common signs of being traumatized included insomnia, nightmares, tearfulness, indifference, and refusing to eat. In the first few days, the volunteers in the stadium’s 'inner circle (a holding place for separated children) had to search bathrooms and corridors for children who hid there and refused to eat. The volunteers told me it was heartbreaking to see the children’s eyes and persuade them that they should eat.”
We visited the “inner circle” at Jiuzhou stadium today. Almost all of the children who had not yet been identified by family members had been transferred to children’s shelters. The Mianyang Civil Affairs director told us that many, many children had been reunited – if not with their parents, then with extended families. One of our colleagues at the MCA told us that of the 200 children who’d been brought to shelter at the Chengdu Medical College, only 18 had not been reunited with extended family. Today we met a girl who has become famous in China because she was interviewed on television by Wen JiaBao. It was believed her parents had died. He tried to comfort her. Soon after, her parents were located.
Although they haven’t yet been able to get to Mianyang to pick her up, today we met one happy little girl. The media has been making much of the idea of thousands of orphans. Our friends at MCA are not certain this is true and, to be honest, the situation is still too fluid to pin down the numbers. There are certainly many, many children with uncertain status. And they are traumatized and very much need consistent, caring support.
Provincial CAB (Civil Affairs Bureau) has begun the process of sending displaced children to structurally-sound colleges, military bases, welfare institutions, and other facilities. In less-stable areas, where there are fears of flooding and environmental issues, children housed in some temporary facilities are being transferred, yet again. Almost every orphanage has been advised that they should prepare for new arrivals. We met a few sad little faces yesterday at the Chengdu CWI; they are told to expect at least 100 more. The director at Zitong CWI told me the same thing. And so did the director at Guiyang CWI in Guizhou! The truth is, I believe, nobody yet knows.
These past days, the MCA has been working to draft recommendations for the care of displaced and orphaned children. I believe they will release an official statement soon. After two days traveling with MCA officials, one thing is clear - government is extremely concerned that every effort be made to reunite children with surviving relatives before adoption by non-relatives of orphaned children is even considered.
Meanwhile, tent schools are quickly being established wherever children are sheltered. There is a great desire to give the children the comfort of settling into a routine and regular attendance at school is seen as key. I visited a large tent city in Dujiangyan yesterday and the scene at 4:30 pm, with children streaming out of the temporary school toward dozens of waiting parents, was identical to that taking place in Chinese cities and towns every day.
HTS is working hard to complete its emergency relief efforts and turn its attention towards the effort for which it is better equipped – helping orphaned children begin to recover emotionally. By the end of the coming week, with your extraordinary generosity and the help of the amazing crew at Gung-Ho Films, we will have purchased and delivered more than 30 tons of tents, medicines, food and formula, children’s clothing, diapers and other infant supplies. With the helicopter to Aba and the purchase today of an emergency vehicle to transport orphaned and displaced children for 9 counties and one city, we will have answered every urgent request to take care of the children’s basic needs. Now we move on to try to address those needs no less urgent, but more elusive in every way.
Tomorrow (Monday, May 26) Half the Sky will launch its Sichuan Caregivers Training Project. I am thrilled, honored and very, very excited to tell you that HTS will work under the guidance of the foremost child trauma and bereavement specialists in the world, the National Center on School Trauma and Bereavement http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/svc/alpha/s/school-crisis/default.htm.
Based at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, but comprising an international network of child trauma experts, the Center grew from the tragedy of the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11 and has served as a resource during hurricanes, school shootings, airline disasters and wars.
Together with NCSTB and MCA, HTS will hold a two-day planning workshop, June 3-4 in Chengdu. Three experts from the Center will lead the workshop. Attending will be four volunteer pediatric psychologists and psychiatric social workers, HTS team of 15 field supervisors, our program directors and officials from MCA and Sichuan CAB. That will be the start of what will likely be a long-term project to help children orphaned by the disaster to recover and rebuild their lives.
I’ll send along further details of the Caregivers Training Project soon.
It’s almost midnight and I’m exhausted. I’ve had two days on the road through a landscape filled with aching sadness, determination and hope.
Today we were starting the process of wrapping up the major portion of our orphanage relief efforts. With your help, we had purchased and delivered or were in the process of delivering huge amounts of medicines and medical supplies, tents, cribs, cots, bedding, baby formula, diapers, kids clothing and shoes, rice, noodles, cooking oil, water, powdered milk, bowls, cups, towels, mosquito repellent and much, much more. As we finalized plans to ship two giant tents to house hundreds of newly orphaned children and bring in engineers to erect them, we got an emergency call from the Aba Civil Affairs Bureau.
The Aba Civil Affairs Bureau is caring for approximately 1,000 orphaned and displaced children, most of whom are 7-12 years old. There are over 100 infants. They had been placing the children in local shelters but had just received news that 70 more children are on the way. There are no more tents and no more beds for them. Further, they urgently need powdered milk and diapers. And they need foods that don’t require cooking because most of their cooking stoves and supplies have been destroyed. They need so much they can’t even give us an estimate.
The roads to Aba are dangerous but the need is tremendous. We obtained the necessary road pass and organized a convoy of three trucks. Our senior preschool field supervisor, Yang Lei, will lead the effort, along with Aba drivers who are familiar with the dangers. It’s a 3 day round-trip. However, we have reluctantly postponed the relief mission because all reports—including from the directors of the Aba and Chengu orphanages--are that it's just too dangerous and too unsure to take such a risk while there are so many mudslides. “This is a very difficult decision for us to make, but we simply can't risk life to save life,” the orphanage directors told us. The convoy will take off as soon as we get clearance.
We have not yet really begun the second critical phase of our operation in Sichuan: training caregivers and volunteers to care for and address the non-material needs of displaced and newly-orphaned children. There are billions being donated for rebuilding, but we need help putting young lives back together.
Here’s a note from Ma Lang, who was at a relief shelter today talking to newly-orphaned children:
I talked to a junior high school girl. Here is part of our conversation:
Lang: Do you know there are psychologists and counselors there to help people?
Lang: Would you be willing to talk to a psychologist?
Lang: What would you like to talk about with the psychologist?
Girl: Things that make me happy. Like happy stories and movies.
Lang: What do not you want the psychologist to ask?
Girl: [pause] Do not ask me where my families are!
“I met Lei in the “inner circle” at Jiuzhou Stadium. He was a cute and curious second grader who’d lost his parents in the quake. He approached me and asked me what I was doing when I was organizing the pictures I took. We looked at the pictures together, and chatted a little bit. He told me that after the earthquake, there come aftershocks, and then comes the epidemic. He said epidemic means you die if you do not wash hands before and after meals. When I asked him what an earthquake is, he said if you talk loud, earthquakes happen. I lowered my voice and asked him if our voices were loud. He said, I do not know.”
Half the Sky is finalizing plans to work in consultation with an important international resource for children traumatized by crisis. I want to thank all of you who have worked to help us locate Mandarin-speaking child trauma specialists. I think we are assembling an outstanding team. I will share more details in the next few days. What I hope I can communicate to you all is that our work is really just beginning. We need more help!
Thank you for all you’ve already done for these children – and for what you will do.
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Our work in Sichuan is in full swing now and it’s becoming harder to find time to write. Yet I know how deeply concerned you are about the children, so will continue to grab all the moments I can to tell you what we've learned.
Since earthquake statistics are so readily available now, I will no longer include them.
You will see below that there are preparations being made in many institutions to receive newly orphaned and displaced children. There have been numerous media reports about the thousands of new orphans; we have received dozens of adoption inquiries here at Half the Sky (which has no involvement in adoption!)
I really want to stress that many, many of these children you're hearing about will be reunited with family – if not parents, then living relatives. In rural China, especially, workers often leave their children with grandparents so that they can support their families by working in more prosperous areas. Many of the children do have parents – parents who are desperately trying to find their children. The government is keenly aware of this and, while there are many, many media reports of adoption programs and applications submitted for domestic adoption of the children, we don’t believe that any adoption procedures will be put into place before every means has been exhausted to find parents or other living relatives.
We, along with Ministry officials, are meeting with the provincial Civil Affairs Bureau on Monday and may have more information about the plans for transitional care of orphaned and displaced children. We are exploring how we can, working with other NGOs, best help care for the children in the interim and assist the government in its efforts to provide for their future.
Here is the current situation:
Chengdu CWI has been notified to prepare to receive 100 children; they expect that more may follow. At the same time, the orphanage has moved the children out-of-doors out of concern for safety. (photos on our website http://www.halfthesky.org/work/earthquake08.php) Half the Sky is working with local government and erecting a giant tent that can serve as shelter for orphaned and displaced children for as long as necessary.
More news on this early next week.
Chengdu 2nd SWI - 35 senior citizens and 10 preschool-age orphans have been transferred there from Dujiangyan City. 40~50 more orphans will be arriving soon. They are in need of 50 beds, sets of bedding, as well as the same number of clothes for children between 5 and 7 years old. Before the arrival of those 45, the institution had 100+ children and 500+ elderly people already. During aftershocks, they stayed in tents; but now, they have all moved back to the buildings.
Chengdu 3rd SWI – Caring for 30 children, all fine, not expecting new arrivals.
Wenjiang District SWI, Chengdu – Caring for only 4 children, all fine, not expecting new arrivals
Dujiangyan SWI – All of the children are under good care and there is no shortage of food or any daily necessity. 12 new children were recently brought in, but they’ve been having much success in locating surviving family members and have high hopes for these children as well.
Luojiang County SWI, Deyang City – The children are being cared for in a shelter, including 6 new arrivals. They are expecting a 2 year-old and have asked for a crib as well as diapers, powdered milk and rice.
Deyang SWI – Has prepared to receive new children per instructions.
Nanchong 2nd SWI – They are caring for 27 children and are expecting another 20. They are sleeping in tents due to concerns about aftershocks.
They ask for 10 tents, tarps and beds.
Cangxi SWI, Guangyuan City – They have some building damage. They have been advised that they may be receiving children from Qingchuan but this has not yet been confirmed by the provincial Civil Affairs Bureau.
I told you that 13 of the 24 children brought to the Zitong SWI had been reunited with family. Today I was told there were 12. Two signs hang at the institution. One says "There are only 20 children from Xiao Ba Primary School in An'Xian in our institution. There are no children from Beichuan. If you are looking for those from Beichuan, please go to (name) Hotel. If you are looking to adopt, please come in 3 months." The other, poignantly says, "Yan: only her mother was home; XianLin & LiGang are brothers: only their father was home: Cheng: her father is working in Xinjiang; Dan: her parents are working in Zhejiang; Jun: about 2 years old, parents whereabouts unknown; Zhou: about 1 year old, parents whereabouts unknown. Needs: Books to read; stable place to live. Emotional needs: their family...their relatives."
Mianyang – The Jiuzhou Stadium that houses 20,000 refugees is now, considering the situation, well-organized and, beyond trash bags and disposable gloves, there seem to be no unmet material needs. While there were, at first, about 1,700 children staying in the "inner circle" of the stadium (on the first floor inside the building), most of those children have either been reunited with family or transferred to smaller shelters in Mianyang. There are only about 130 children remaining. There are volunteer counselors and psychologists for these children. The "inner circle" is strictly guarded by police, soldiers, and volunteers. Mr. Liang JianHua, a volunteer leader and veteran, has been supervising care of the children in the "inner circle" from the very beginning, with the help of about a dozen volunteers. According to Ma Lang, he seems to be an extremely competent, kind, and devoted person.
Meanwhile, for children less well-served, Half the Sky is moving goods like crazy and working hard to initiate the next, and most important phase of our efforts – trauma counseling and care for displaced and orphaned children.
Thanks to help from dozens of volunteers, we’ve delivered about 100 of the promised tents, cases of blankets, tarps, clothes, diapers, food and medicines to several institutions. There will be many more arrivals and deliveries over the coming days. We have received permits to enter and provide aid to one of the more inaccesible hard-hit areas tomorrow (Aba County) and are working on helping in Li and Mao counties, also hard-hit.
We have begun the process of distributing to temporary children’s shelters. We give special thanks to the Sichuan employees of Silk Road Telecommunications, many of whom helped us load and unload trucks and have offered to aid in distribution and logistics all around the province.
I’ve got lots more to report but have run out of steam and time. I’ll be back tomorrow with more, I promise.
Once again, THANK YOU, all of you, who are making this work possible!
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