The Great Sichuan Earthquake
On May 12th, 2008 an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 struck Sichuan province in China. According to Japanese seismologist Yuji Yagi, the earthquake lasted about two minutes and released thirty times the energy of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 in Japan, which killed over six thousand people. In comparison, the Great Sichuan Earthquake has left more than ten times that many casualties, over three hundred thousand injured and anywhere from five to eleven million people homeless.
Initial Response and Assessment
Over the course of the next three months, we worked in cooperation with the Sichuan Red Cross and local volunteers to bring relief, assistance, support and hope to the survivors. In early June, a small team of three went to help with logistics, assessment and to give training for counselors. Through partnerships with local volunteers in China we were able to help bring in a 30-ton truck of supplies, do field assessments of mountain villages and tent-cites, conduct debriefings with teams returning from the field and establish relationships with educators with whom follow-up could be conducted.
Sherwood Patterson — OpSAFE Team Leader
“After leaving the village we stopped at another tent city to pass out relief supplies.
As we drove up, there was a young 6-year old girl walking across the open courtyard. As we got out
of the cars, we could see that the girl had cuts, bruises, and scabs on her head. Her mother was
nearby and I asked Pete, a doctor, to examine her. They sat down on a bench in the shade and he
began to ask her questions. The young girl told us that she was in school when the earthquake hit.
In all the commotion, all the first graders tried to escape from the building. The teacher stayed
behind to help the students escape. As she was running from the building, the roof and brick walls
fell on her, pinning her and covering her in the rubble. Those nearby began to dig away at the
bricks, focusing their attention on the small faint cries for help from the students who were still
alive. The young girl was pulled from the bricks with head wounds and rushed to the hospital. There
were 8 students, including the teacher, who died in that classroom. She told us that her best friend
was crushed and died at her feet. Pete also has a daughter nearly the same age and he began to
comfort her. She explained that she still has nightmares and will suddenly experience flashbacks of
the incident. Just then, another member of our team remembered one teddy bear we had stuffed away in
the back of the van. The bear was almost as big as her and when Pete gave it to her, she squeezed
the soft bear and rubbed her face into its neck. I felt that God had this teddy bear specifically for
her to give her a big tender hug from heaven.
Phase Two: Preparing for Operation SAFE
During the second phase of our response we continued to support teams on the ground who spent the next three weeks living in the camps with the people, teaching children and building up relationships with the community. Meanwhile an earthquake resource center was established in Chengdu to facilitate relief and reconstruction to needed areas based on the needs communicated through the teams living in the camps. At the same time the team in Japan designed and produced a 5-day children’s camp designed to help trauma survivors build trust and friendship with counselors who could listen to their stories and help them adjust to their new situation. The Operation SAFE camp is built around an original story of a little penguin who is separated from his family when his ice-shelf falls into the sea.
The second team went to China in mid-July to recruit volunteers, give training and oversee the final stages of development of the Operation SAFE program in Chinese in preparation of starting camps the last week of July. The first two camps were held in Sang Zao, the community where the teams had been staying and teaching constantly since we had first arrived in China. The Operation SAFE material turned out to be flexible enough to adapt to a variety of camp settings and also effective enough to make a noticeable difference in the children’s lives.
Jonathan Wilson — OperationSAFE Director
“I was quite eager to find out how the materials worked during these first two camps and when we visited Sang Zao once more to deliver school supplies that elementary school children in Japan had collected for them, I was able to ask the Vice Principal of Sang Zao Elementary School what difference he saw in the children. When I asked the question the man pointed to his seven year old daughter and explained that after the earthquake she grew withdrawn and refused to speak and didn’t want to play with other children. He then told me that during the Operation SAFE camp she finally opened up and began to talk and play as before.”
Phase Three : Six Camps Bring Hope
The third team went to assist with the third Operation SAFE camp in August, however with the teams exhausted and the need to find a new venue, we spent the first week helping the tired volunteers and locating the venue for the next round of camps. The next week we ended up starting not just one camp but four in the mountain villages of Longmenshan. Once again it proved necessary to adapt and adjust to varying conditions in each location but the materials and volunteers were up to the task. Our team prepared crafts and materials for the camps, registered and trained Chinese volunteers, and helped start the camps in the remote villages located directly on the fault-line. Operation SAFE was designed to be used not only with children in China but is adaptable for use in any place where children have been through trauma and need a safe place to be children.