Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Half the Sky Earthquake Update - May 20

There are 34,073 people confirmed dead, 245,108 injured, still more than35,000 still missing.

Yesterday, after those three silent minutes in Sichuan, people began to call out, “Rebuild! Rebuild!” Today, when I was feeling I couldn’t open another casualty report, I read instead a report about new babies born during and right after the quake. They have names like ‘Li Zhen’(Earthquake) and ‘Born in a Tent’ and ‘Long March.’ They, like all the survivors, will carry these terrible days with them always. But their lives are just beginning. For them and for all of the children who survived, Sichuan will begin to rebuild.

As hope of finding more survivors fades, we find hope in each bit of good news. During the past week we managed to reach every single orphanage in the hardest-hit areas but one - Aba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. Today we finally made contact. They said, “The institution buildings are no longer safe to live in. All the children live in tents. The government provides us with enough food and water and daily necessities. Now we only worry how and when we can possibly rebuild.”

Of the 24 children (all of whom were from hard-hit Anxian County) who we reported were brought to Mianyang Zitong SWI because they were newlyorphaned, I am very happy to tell you that 13 of them were reunited with relatives.The children of Suining SWI have now been able to move back into their orphanage building.

More displaced children are arriving daily at shelters in Chengdu, but no one is giving up on finding living relatives yet. Yesterday, 70 children were brought to a large hospital in Chengdu for urgent treatment. Some of them had joyful reunions with family, but of course, not all. One very young girl signed her own consent form to have surgery on her broken arm. Ma Lang wrote, “She was a sweet and tough girl, and the doctors, nurses,and volunteers loved her very much.”

Ma Lang and two other HTS staff are now in Mianyang and we expect more news from them soon. Meanwhile, our relief operation is going into full swing, with tents, tarps, medicines, beds, blankets, rice, diapers, food,clothing and baby formula moving in and out of the Chengdu CWI for immediate delivery to distressed areas.

As we get closer to realizing our small part of meeting the basic challenges of shelter and emergency supplies, it is time to embark on the most critical project for the long term – helping the children heal and goon with life. This is, of course, why Half the Sky exists and how our organization can best help Sichuan’s children rebuild. Now we will begin the process of training caregivers, foster parents, shelter workers and volunteers of all backgrounds to work with newly orphaned and displaced children.

We believe our long experience working with children orphaned by AIDS and other children who were not infants when they lost their parents has given us a solid foundation for this work. But this week we are recruiting a team of pediatric psychologists, trauma specialists and social workers to help us adjust our training methods to this special circumstance. (If you are, or know of, a Mandarin-speaking professional working in this field who would like to volunteer for this project, please let me know!)

Within two weeks, Half the Sky’s entire staff of field supervisors will be working with caregivers and new foster parents all around Sichuan. Our work is just beginning. Thank you so much for making it possible!

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