The latest statistics from China are now telling us that over 67,000 have died from the devastating May 12 earthquake, about 20,800 people are still missing and an astounding 5 million people have been left homeless. (That’s the equivalent of the entire city of Atlanta.)
Huge aftershocks continue to rattle the area, not to mention the population. As a man quoted in this New York Times article described, “Everyone is paralyzed with dread, and each new tremor just prolongs our misery.” That ongoing sense of fear can be particularly tough on children. Now, in China, there are so many children whose main places of stability and comfort”home and school”no longer feel safe to them.
|UNICEF/ HQ08-0456/Adam Dean|
|A boy sleeps on blankets spread on the ground outside a temporary camp at Mianyang Stadium for people displaced by the earthquake, in the city of Mianyang in Sichuan Province. The city is in one of the worst-affected parts of the province.|
Sadly, children who have only lost their home can, in some ways, consider themselves lucky. An estimated 4,000 children have been orphaned. Other children who were in boarding schools when the earthquake struck, or whose parents were working in far off cities, find themselves still separated from their families. Children have been badly injured. They’ve seen family members and friends killed. Is it any wonder so many of these children will experience post-traumatic stress disorder?
UNICEF is already working to set up pychosocial support for children who have been traumatized by the quake and all the after-events connected to it. We know from our work following the massive earthquakes in Bam, Iran, and the Kashmir region of Pakistan that this will be essential to helping children get past the mental and emotional trauma. We want to do whatever we can to make sure these children don’t lose their childhoods to fear, stress and grief.
We’ll train teachers and other counselors to work with children through talking, play and art therapy. We’ll create safe spaces where children are free (encouraged!) to be children. We’ve created pychosocial support for children all over the world who have lived through trauma: child soldiers in Sierra Leone, cyclone survivors in Myanmar, Iraqi children, children living with HIV/AIDS, children who survived the school massacre in Beslan”the list goes on and on. The list is too long.
Though psychosocial counseling will be a big part of our work to help children in China, we’re lending a hand in other ways, too. As I write this, we’re shipping 100 tons of health and nutritional supplies for children and pregnant women, due to arrive in Sichuan on Friday, May 30.
Do you know anyone who was in China during the earthquake? We’d like to hear from you, and hear their story.