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Sichuan earthquake: Learning to smile again

Xueqing in a Save the Children Child Friendly Space after the Sichuan earthquake
Xueqing reading a book in a Save the Children Child Friendly Space

“Since the earthquake, she always sleeps closest to the door, so that she can escape quickly,” says the mother of 11-year-old Lu Xueqing. “She often grabs my hand, afraid that something is about to happen.”

This is a result of the distress Xueqing had to cope with in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Ya’an prefecture on  20 April. It was 7.0 magnitude and killed 190 people; many of those who survived, like Xueqing, are still badly affected.

“She didn’t smile for a long time”

Xueqing lives with her parents and elder sister in Longmen Township, one of the worst affected in the earthquake. Her shock and distress affected her  social life. “After the earthquake, she didn’t smile for a long time,” says her friend, Lu Yiling. “She often sat in a corner staring into space. For some time, when the boys started joking about the earthquake, she would walk away angrily.”

Her grades also suffered. “She scored 80 marks for maths last term but after this her grades fell to just over 60 marks,” her mother said. “She had over 60 for her Chinese language but most recently she only got 40 marks.”

An urgent need to play, learn and talk

It wasn’t just Xueqing. Many children had lost friends or family in the earthquake and were showing signs of distress. The debris and destruction also meant that there were very few places for them to play. So Save the Children and our partners set up 50 Child Friendly Spaces (CFSs) in Sichuan to provide children with a safe space to play, learn and talk through their experiences. Children were also encouraged to take on additional responsibilities, such as managing the spaces during the day, to make them feel valued.

Xueqing participated in Chinese and English reading, learning methods, and a summer tuition group. She also took part in many art and craft activities.

It was at the CFS that Xueqing discovered her love of dancing. “One day, Xueqing’s relative told me that she wanted to learn to dance and asked if she could borrow my computer as she did not own any music,” said the CFS manager, Mr Ma. “I said yes.”

Mr Ma then arranged for them to perform. “[Our first performance] was at the half-time break of a basketball game,” said Xueqing. “Then we performed at an athletics meet and to welcome the volunteers from colleges. Everyone started to dance behind us. When I heard the applause, I was happier than I’d ever been. I can’t think of anything that makes me happier.”

These activities have helped Xueqing to recover. “It was hard to get her to answer any questions when she first took part in our activities,” said Teacher Gao, Mr. Ma’s assistant. “She has matured and has started to think for others.” And with support from family, friends, teachers and Save the Children, she can stop fearing the earthquake’s return.

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