In May 2008, the earthquake in China costed 90,000 people their lives and left millions homeless – many of them suffering from extreme trauma. On the invitation of the Waldorf School in Chengdu and accredited by the provincial government in Sichuan, the “Friends of Waldorf Education” carried out an emergency pedagogy acute aid for psycho-traumatised children, their parents, and teachers as well as factory workers from a destroyed chemical factory in the region around Shifang from June 21st to July 5th, 2008. The crisis intervention team consisted of teachers, pre-school teachers, a doctor, a psycho-therapist, and multiple interpreters. At the end of the two-week mission, representatives from the Chinese government expressed their great appreciation.
Included amongst the ca. 90,000 casualties were a disproportionate number of children, as many of the adults were at work in the fields while the children were in schools destroyed by the earthquake. 450,000 people were severely injured by the quake. Fifteen million houses were destroyed; about 6 million people are now living in emergency shelters.
A severe emotional earthquake then followed the catastrophic earthquake. Countless people have been shaken psychologically, injured, psycho-traumatised.
The crisis intervention team of the “Friends” worked with hundreds of children in seven tent schools around Hongbai, in the epicentre of the earthquake—where all of the houses have been destroyed, villages buried by broken mountain ranges, and entire regions were contaminated by destroyed chemical plants. Most of the children were buried in the earthquake and some of them could only be freed after a few days. Next to them, siblings, classmates, and teachers died in the rubble.
Especially tragic was the fate of the school in Luoshiuzhen. Over 200 children were buried during the collapse of the school wing and died over three days. In front of the rubble field, parents have erected a memorial with pictures of their dead children. Here accusations against the authorities due to structural deficiencies in the school building construction are becoming loud too. In calligraphy on the memorial reads: “Heaven catastrophes are unavoidable. But when catastrophes are made by people, one must hate them for it!”
The Chinese symbol for crisis is made up of the symbols for chance and danger. Likewise, on the invitation to the workshops in Shifang also stood: “In the development of humankind, there are natural catastrophes which we cannot predict nor prevent. But if we accept them and learn to cope with them, we can gain strength through them, grow through them, and help other people!”
New trauma research is concerned also with the question, what kinds of positive biographical gains can be made after the successful integration of terrible experiences into one’s biography. The research results are clear. The positive processing of a trauma leads to personal growth. Often it results in the expansion of life perspectives and to a spiritual-religious deepening. In addition to the increased regard for life, positively processed psycho-traumata assist in a new prioritising and especially in the deepening of personal relationships.
“My son went to the same school, where I teach. We found him later during the digging. He was dead. Now my shaking has stopped. The earthquake changed my life entirely. I am gradually learning though, to again think about other things instead of just about the terrible images and the screaming of dying children. I want to be strong enough to go back to the school again. I am indebted to my son to help the survivors!”, said the 32 year old teacher Li Guangui from Hongbai, and her colleague Xiao Ziong, 28 years old, from Bajiao added: “We must remove the shadows from our hearts in order to be able to approach the children freely again!”
The emergency pedagogy crisis intervention in the earthquake region of Sichuan served this goal.
At the closing of the emergency pedagogy crisis intervention, representatives from the city government of Shifang asked us if they could keep one of the “Friends’” service t-shirts. This will be displayed in a newly constructed memorial for the victims of the earthquake as a symbol for transnational humanitarian aid.
Here you can read a full report on the mission. (in German, English translation to follow)