HTS staff, volunteers and our friends from the army took a dange
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.’”
Chengdu CWI: Soldiers helped HTS bring emergency supplies to 1,0
Chengdu CWI: HTS erects the first 'BigTop' to help the orphanage