The children seem a happy and lively lot, so it’s jolting when an 11-year-old girl suddenly starts crying. We have been talking about how she felt in the earthquake, which struck two years ago on May 12, 2019, and what advice she would have for kids in Haiti going through the same experience.
We don’t discuss the disturbing television images from the earthquake in Yushu, which took place on April 14, 2019 and lies a few hundred miles to the west from the site of China’s 2008 quake. I don’t know whether she’s seen them, but with China observing a day of national mourning a few days after our visit, the subject is clearly going to be in these children’s minds.
I’ve come to this primary school in a valley in Sichuan’s Guangyuan Prefecture, about three hours north of the capital Chengdu, to talk to the children about how they feel about life, two years after the earthquake. The school has been rebuilt with support from the Red Cross.
We are talking about the photographs the children have taken with disposable cameras, for a competition organized by the American Red Cross. The images they captured ranged from collapsed houses to construction crews to friends, brothers or grandma washing her feet.
Words of wisdom
Many of the emotional wounds caused by the disaster have healed for the vast majority of these youngsters, but most can still vividly remember what they were doing when the disaster struck and how they dealt with the psychological trauma of losing so much.
“When the earthquake happened, I was in the classroom. It seemed we were staying inside a pile of ruins. Since the building was shaking so hard, I was almost out of breath, and I worried about my parents,” said 10-year-old Deng Jie.
She also offered this advice to the children of Haiti who are dealing with similar emotions.
2008 Earthquake in China Recovery
Two years after the earthquake in China, Red Cross is supporting the rebuilding of houses, schools and clinics, as well as restoring access to clean water to rural villages and training people to know how to respond to future disasters. The American Red Cross raised $55 million following the earthquake thanks to the generosity of donors.
Zhang Jie, a 12-year-old earthquake survivor, took this photo of his parents rebuilding their home Guangyuan, China.
“To those children affected by the big earthquake, I wish they will be happy. Please don’t be sad, don’t carry around those sad feelings. I wish they can experience much more happy things.”
Liu Junlong, an 11-year-old boy, was watching television when the earthquake struck and his mother told him to run out of the house quickly.
He has his own advice for the children of Haiti.
“To the children who were affected badly by the earthquake, I wish they could think much more of those happy things. My best suggestion is to study hard, because studying can help you forget your pain. It worked for me.”
Pictures of hope
The pictures taken by these children all have a life-affirming quality about them, and capture scenes from their every day life which they particularly want to celebrate or share with others.
“The selected picture is of our new house. My parents were building house when I took a picture for them. They didn’t know this. Our new house has got its shape already and is beautiful,” said 12-year-old Zhang Jie.
Almost all the children say that the quake, which struck at 2:28 p.m., was a terrifying experience. Still most tell us that it took them as little as a couple of weeks to up to a year to get back to feeling normal again. But as we have seen from other disasters, painful memories can linger and come back even after many years.
“I was in school when earthquake happened. It terrified me. My school master and teachers came to rescue us and we ran out of school quickly. The fear lasted about a couple months, later I was fine because I saw other people seemed joyful, so I felt joyful also,” said 9-year-old Yuan Hui.
A common theme emerged throughout all the photos and that is one of recovery. So much progress has been made and life has moved on that it is hard to imagine the tragic events that took place two years ago. Hopefully we will be able to say the same about Haiti in two years time.
You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. Donations to the International Response Fund can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.