In a classroom about halfway down the row of prefabricated shelters, something a bit different is going on from the standard pattern of lessons unfolding in other rooms – psychosocial support.
“We are really great,” shout the teenagers crowded into the room as they slap their hands into a self-embrace position, before a scraping of chairs heralds the lesson’s end.
“What it is all about is self-affirmation and regaining confidence for these still emotionally fragile survivors of Sichuan’s massive earthquake,” says their teacher Luo Yumei.
Like almost all the other staff in this junior high school in the heart of the disaster zone, Luo has received training in practical and emotional support methods under a Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) programme named Sunshine In Your Heart.
“This is an extremely important start, which is needed in a situation like this,” says Dr Jeya Kulasingam, health and psychosocial support programme delegate with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in Sichuan.
“The games we were using immediately after the earthquake were completely different in character, designed to help the children overcome their fear,” says Luo.
Stepping out of the earthquake’s shadow, though, is a process that is still by no means completed, says school principal Li Zhihong. Besides care and positive reinforcement, part of the process is to keep the most troubled children busy. “We make more demands on them to study because they will get over their fears if they are kept active,” says Zhihong.
Between 20 and 30 of the school’s 1,200 children require individual emotional and practical support, in addition to the class sessions given by teachers.
After experiencing the earthquake and receiving counseling, Liu Yujiang, 14, says: “I have really learned to treasure life and to be glad that I am alive.” Her friend, Xiao Li, also 14, agrees, even though she says: “I had a difficult time at first coming to terms with the death of my cousin, who was only a year older than me.”
Fifteen-year-old Zhang Lamei, who lives with her parents and grandfather in a nearby village, has also gained strength from the psychosocial support, she says: “But it will take a bit of time before I feel like my old self again.”
Sitting outside the family’s temporary shelter, in front of their quake-damaged farmhouse, her mother, Liu Shuhui, agrees: “There is still quite a lot of fear and anxiety about what happens next.”
“These feelings are normal in a post-disaster environment like this and they show the need for us to support the RCSC as it builds on this experience,” says Dr Kulasingam.
The programme also holds important lessons, beyond those being taught in the prefabricated classrooms, for how the Red Cross responds to the emotional needs of survivors in potential future disasters.
This story was provided by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Read more stories from survivors of the earthquake