Friday, May 23, 2008

Half the Sky Earthquake Update - May 23

Today we were starting the process of wrapping up the major portion of our orphanage relief efforts. With your help, we have purchased and delivered or are 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, then bring in engineers to erect two giant tents to house hundreds of newly orphaned children, we got an emergency call from Aba Civil Affairs Bureau.

They are caring for approximately 1,000 orphaned and displaced children,most of whom are 7-12 years old. There are over 100 infants. They’d been placing the children in local shelters but had just received news that 70more 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 as 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 have obtained the necessary road pass and organized a convoy of three trucks. Our senior preschool field supervisor, Yang Lei, will be leading the effort along with Aba drivers who are familiar with the dangers. It’s a 3day round-trip and they leave at dawn. I am so thankful our Half the Sky staff are as tough as they are!

Stop presses! -- Just as I finished writing the above, I received the following email. The situation continues to be ever-changing:“While everyone has done an absolutely incredible job pulling this urgent shipment together, it simply cannot leave tomorrow morning as we've all been pushing for. The road between Chengdu and Aba is simply too dangerous to travel, based on all the information we are able to gather. While it hasn't registered on the news, nearly 200 people have died in the last few days along these roads due to mudslides caused by the early summer rains. Communications are, of course, sketchy, and we know Yang Lei has her permit to travel the roads, but all reports are now that it's just too dangerous and too unsure to risk take such a risk. The Director of the Aba Institution agrees and the Director of the Chengdu Institution agrees.

“The efforts you've all put in today on behalf of the babies at Aba will not be in vain. We will monitor the road situation very, very closely. Civil Affairs wants us to get in, we want to go in, and the moment we feel it is safe, we will go in. The good news is we've managed to amass everything on Aba's "needs list" in one day and it's staged at Chengdu SWI and ready to load on trucks. The items that were scheduled to load on the Aba trucks will stay at Chengdu, ready to travel to Aba when conditions allow. THESE ITEMS ARE NOT TO BE USED FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE IN THE COMING DAYS, THEY ARE TO BE KEPT TOGETHER, AND SEPARATE FROM ALL OTHER INVENTORY,AND WILL TRAVEL TO ABA AS SOON AS CONDITIONS ALLOW. This is a very difficult decision for us to make, but we simply can't risk life to save life.”You can see that the relief effort is not quite over. I will keep you all posted.

Meanwhile, we have spent almost exactly the amount we have raised in donations (just over US$300,000. And 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 “model” 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?Girl: Yes.Lang: Would you be willing to talk to a psychologist?Girl: Yes.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!P.S. There is little coordination among the 10 plus counselor groups at the shelter. One main method they chose their “clients” was to look for sad faces. If a child or adult looked sad, the likelihood was that she would be “counseled” by more than one group of counselors. One concern that I had was that the children (and adults) might be traumatized again by the “counseling” process.

And then….

“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 meal. When I asked him what earthquake is, he said if you talk loud, earthquake happens. 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!

No comments: