China: 18 days since the earthquake struck
By Fan Xiaowen, Save the Children's Sichuan Programme Manager
It has been 18 days since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan province in southwest China. 18 days since the worst-affected children have slept in their own beds, under their roof, among their toys.
Many children have come a long way in these past 18 days – especially in the most rural and remote areas – as relief gradually arrived for them due to blocked roads and bad weather conditions. About 200 people have been killed in the temblor and two million affected.
Thousands of aftershocks have been recorded over the last 14 days, causing many children to be frightened and distressed. As Save the Children spoke to parents, many reported that their children have not been eating or sleeping well.
Indeed, children are the most vulnerable in any disaster, as they may not understand what is happening around them and may not know what to do and how to respond. A child’s day-to-day activities have also changed as many schools still remain shut, leaving children with limited safe space to play given the debris around them.
Children need to regain a sense of normalcy, and quickly. Save the Children began distributing toys to children in the worst-affected communities of Ya’an, and it has been extremely heartening to watch children have fun again with sand shovels and buckets, and playing a game of badminton with their friends. Meanwhile, we are also preparing for materials to help eight seriously affected schools set up temporary classrooms.
Plans are also underway to set up safe spaces in communities so children can play, paint, draw and talk through their experiences with a trained adult. With at least two million people affected, these activities have to be performed at scale. Many civil society organisations need to be gathered and trained, before reaching out to their network of local communities, leaders and teachers.
It is important that life returns to normal for these earthquake affected children. Save the Children is working round the clock to ensure affected children receive the psychological support they need in time to deal with what has happened around them, because children cannot wait.