Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Half the Sky Earthquake Update - June 4

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

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. Our sincere thanks to everyone who helped us buy and get those
supplies to the children quickly in the chaotic first days. Thanks to the
amazing crew at Gung Ho Films, to the extraordinary Sichuan volunteers
from Silk Road Telecommunications, to our volunteer shoppers and shippers
in Chengdu and around China, and to our extraordinary donors who provided
the funds that enabled us to act so quickly to get the supplies to the

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

At at the Sichuan Children’s Activity Center west of Chengdu, our team
learned about a boy who feels guilty that he was not able to save the girl
that sat next to him in class. When the building was about to collapse,
the boy managed to run out of the building. Some of his classmates were
not so lucky and he tried pulling his classmate whose leg was stuck in the
rubble. Unfortunately he did not succeed and the girl later died. Now he
feels guilty that he could not save his friend and talks about it over and

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.

The questions from caregivers and volunteers were challenging. Do we try
to gently tell the children who cling to the hope that their parents are
alive that they are instead likely dead? How do we reach children who have
shut down, refusing to talk about what they went through yet screaming in
the night from memories too horrible to consider during the day? How can
we help a child who won’t eat, a child who lives in her imagination? Do we
let them see us cry? How do we keep our own sanity as we try to be there
for the children? Sadly, the experts in child trauma during disaster have
heard the questions and have seen the suffering many times before. They
were able to provide tools for caregivers and for children, as well as
reassurance that they will be there to help as the healing process begins.

Yesterday, after the workshop, we visited a shelter in Chengdu. Children
told us of seeing their friends killed, of waking up next to dead bodies,
of their fear of falling asleep, their fear of being indoors.

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. There is no question
that this will be a long process and that we will need the help of all of
you, who have already given so much.

We know you want to help because our mailboxes are full of offers of
tents, blankets, diapers, and strong backs to help rebuild. These are
wonderful offers but we cannot accept them now that we have moved on to
the work of helping children emotionally.

What we do need is financial support and your trust that we are exploring
and will develop and carry out a plan for maximum impact on children’s
lives. In turn, we commit to report in detail, and often, how we are using
the resources you are so generously supplying. By the end of this week,
we expect to be able to report more fully on our midterm and long term
plans in Sichuan. We anticipate that the work may last for 2-3 years. As
the emergency eases, we will make certain that Half the Sky’s direct
involvement will be limited, as it must, by our mission (providing
nurturing care for orphaned children) but we will do our best to
facilitate involvement of other organizations that can help meet the needs
of affected children in the broader population.

Every year, in June, we launch a Children’s Day campaign to raise funds to
bring Half the Sky’s programs to more children in the fall. This year we
must do even more. We have to help the children even as we continue to run
our programs and open new, comprehensive Blue Sky Model Centers. Never
have we needed your help more.

Of the US$600,000 you have so generously committed to help the children of
Sichuan, we have spent approximately one-half on emergency relief. We
should have a full accounting very soon. We do not yet know what the cost
of our long-term effort to rebuild lives will be, but hope to have more
information as the plans develop and the numbers of children in need of
emotional assistance are clearer.

No comments: