accessibility & help

Italy earthquake

An earthquake struck part of central Italy in August. Encourage young people to explore the humanitarian response with the following activities.

The activities begin with self-directed online research, viewing a 150-second video and other tasks which students can do outside of the classroom. Then come opportunities to discuss, question, fill gaps in understanding and swap opinions. The activities are ideal for flipped learning and can also be used in the classroom as a group activity.

Three initial tasks

1. Using online sources, or newspapers in a library, find the following:

  • The exact date in August 2016 and the time of day the earthquake struck.
  • The name of one of the places badly affected, and whether that place is a large city or small town. Is it on the coast or inland in the mountains?
  • The name and date of a previous recent earthquake in Italy in which over 300 people died.

2. Watch the video Italy earthquake: Saving lives and healing souls 2:35. It features local Red Cross volunteers talking about their experiences supporting families of the victims of the Italy earthquake.

Note to educators: This is a moving and impactful video that some young people might find upsetting. You may wish to watch the video before sharing with students so you can introduce it sensitively and are prepared to facilitate a discussion around any questions they may have after watching it. Please also note the video is in Italian so be sure to turn on subtitles.

Come to class prepared to discuss your thoughts about the video. In particular:

  • What surprised you?
  • Was there anything you did not understand?
  • What would you like to know more about?

Consider the different kinds of support some of the people shown in the video might need:

  • What support might the relatives of the victims of the earthquakes need?
  • What support might the Red Cross volunteers and staff need?

Try to consider both the immediate and longer term needs.

Also think about the following:

  • What do you think psychosocial means?
  • Did you notice the mistranslation in the transcript? The Italian “il obitorio” was translated as “the obituary”. What does this mean? What would be a better English word? If you can’t think of a word, describe the place and what happens there.
  • How do you think you might have responded if you had been there? What support might you have been glad of, at the time and afterwards?

3. Using online news sources, find and record a direct quotation from someone who witnessed the earthquake or the rescue effort. You can write down the words. Or, if it is spoken, record the audio on your phone or other device.

Exploration together

In class, working in groups or together:

  1. Check responses to the factual questions about the earthquake. Note any differences and possible reasons for them.

  2. Explore responses to the video. Discuss questions and identify ways to fill gaps in knowledge and understanding.

  • Psychosocial support helps people after a disaster. It helps people with emotional and practical needs in a crisis. What do young people think those main needs might be? When someone is in a crisis, what might help?
  • The video spoke of volunteers who supported people to identify bodies in the morgue or mortuary (the usual translations of il obitorio). What skills or characteristics are needed to help someone do that? Which do young people think matters most, experience, training or a warm human response and understanding?
  • Volunteers and staff themselves need emotional support. One of the speakers talked about avoiding burn-out. What might burn-out mean for the person experiencing it in this context? What might be the early signs of burn-out, and what could someone do to help prevent it getting worse?
  1. Create a sound or written montage of quotations from witnesses. This could be played in an assembly or used as a sound background to an in-class presentation. Educators will want to find sensitive ways to introduce and debrief the content if it is being shown to new groups, for example in an assembly.

Video transcript

Use this to check details and refresh memories.

“We’re in the obituary area set up for the victims of the earthquake here in Amatrice. We’re here to support the relatives of the victims with our psycho-social support services. While other Red Cross volunteers support the civil protection and the special corps of the scientific police.

These volunteers are helping to transport the victims to the obituary area.

What we have seen when we have arrived was horrific, we were not expecting anything like this. I have worked in the response to the earthquake in L’Aquila, where mainly we were providing psycho-social support, while here, in the smaller context of Amatrice, we are carrying out activities that we have never carried out before, we witness realities we have not seen before.

Many volunteers are supporting in moving the victims and identifying bodies. You can imagine what we are all witnessing. It is very hard. We are counting on the support of the psycho-support teams for us volunteers and the families of the victims who wait to find their relatives.

The ‘SEP’ teams provide support to both families and relatives of the victims and also to volunteers responding to the emergency.

We have been supporting families in identifying the bodies of their relatives, providing support both on identifying from photos of the deceased victims and accompanying them into the obituary.

After events like the earthquake in L’Aquila, we have realised that it is not enough to take care and train our volunteers, we also need to support them in the moment when a trauma can happen. Working with deceased bodies involves a very hard mental process. If there is no debriefing with the volunteers we are at risk of burning them out, and this is something no volunteering organisation can afford.”

Croce Rossa Italiana


This resource was written by PJ White of Alt62 and published in September 2016.

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