Looking back over the last 12 months, it seems like a whirlwind that never really stopped long enough for us to catch our breath.
In January we went to China, thinking that the animated version of “Pete’s Adventure” would be completed and discovered that we were really only getting started on a new chapter of that adventure. I believe strongly in the importance of this film for children all over the world and yet the difficulties of producing an animated film can’t be overstated.
Then on January 12th, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the already poverty-stricken island nation of Haiti. This would be the first time for the OperationSAFE material to be used in a language other than Mandarin Chinese. With help from volunteers on Twitter, we rapidly sent manuals in French to start the coordination process with a Haitian NGO, and started raising funds to send a training team to the small village of Mizak. Twitter became a major source of funding as the word spread and roughly half of the budget for the Haiti mission came from online donations. With the excitement of new found support and help we headed to Haiti in March to work with local village and displaced children. We fully expected that we would need to adapt the program to the local environment, but what we could not prepare for was the extreme need of the people even two months after the disaster struck. Typically, we enter a disaster zone after the rescue phase so that we can concentrate on the emotional needs of children when they are not distracted by the more pressing needs of survival. But sadly, in Haiti the rescue phase has never really ended. The emotional needs remain, but with the lack of basic resources, medicine and economic means of survival ongoing trauma adds to that of the quake. Our experience in Haiti has opened our eyes to the needs of children living in refugee populations, orphanages and in extreme poverty around the world who not only need trauma intervention but to build up a basic resilience to ongoing trauma.
Barely had we returned from Haiti when news arrived of another large quake on the Tibetan Plateau. Even before I called our Chinese headquarters they were already preparing teams to go and help with the initial relief. Though Qinghai is considered a region of China it is largely ethnically Tibetan so once again we were going to take the OperationSAFE program cross-culturally into a new environment. But the difficulties only started with languages and culture, even more daunting was the physical environment at over 4000 meters. For many of our lowland Chinese volunteers and for myself the high altitude would prove quite demanding.
Over the summer months we were able to hold OperationSAFE in three locations on the Tibetan plateau and train numerous volunteers in emotional first-aid. Once again I was struck by the prevalence of trauma in the daily lives of the children – not just from the quake but from abandonment, abuse and extreme poverty.
A natural disaster provides a clear and present opportunity to address the needs of a community. They understand their need and welcome outsiders bringing help. It also provides a number of other things that are realities of humanitarian work; a disaster brings attention which translates into more funding, and more people willing to volunteer. However, our goal is that through training volunteers for disaster work, they might connect with the plight of the people they are helping, see past the disaster and recognize how they can continue to help these children long after the disaster is a distant memory.
Our goal is that every hurting child would know that they are not alone. To do this we need your help. Partner with us today by giving a donation through FirstGiving.