“Over 90% of the houses in this village need to be rebuilt,” the headmaster of Buzhigao School said as we arrived in the village to conduct an assessment of the damage and the impact on children. As he showed us around the grounds of the school, he brushed away tears as he recounted how one high-school student had died.
The school’s structure had actually survived pretty well, although there were large cracks in the classroom walls and the ground was littered with broken roofing tiles. This paled in comparison to the adobe and mud houses, most of which had one or two collapsed walls or a roof that had fallen in. Many were mere piles of mud, stone and wood behind doorways that stood like lone sentinels. We found no working toilets in the village and the inhabitants must now travel several miles to collect water, often on foot.
The headmaster thought that most of the children were “holding out well” and coping with the disaster. Our own conversations with children, however, made clear that they are experiencing a great degree of distress.
A crying need for emotional support
We spoke to one 13-year old girl who could hardly bring herself to look at us and could barely verbalise her feelings. She looked utterly sad and her grandfather was very concerned. She was consoled and offered psychosocial support by trained Save the Children staff.
A trio of 15- and 16-year-old girls talked about the fear they experienced on the morning of the earthquake. They were all outside that morning but they still ran in fear. “I injured my knee jumping down an embankment,” one recalled. When we inquired if she had received any medical attention, she replied that she hadn’t thought it “serious” enough when compared to the many other injuries she had seen. “There are no toilets for us to use,” one girl continued, “so we go wherever we can.” She added that she wished there were a place for them to bathe.
Children lacking all the basics
The girls, although coping admirably, appeared quite distraught when talking about their experiences over the past week. “There are not so many girls our age, so we often stay home and help out with chores, but we would like more activities and things to do in the daytime,” one said. They also need new bedding – and of course, new homes.
Save the Children will be providing training in Psychosocial First Aid (PFA) and psychosocial support for over 15 civil society organisations in coordination with the One Foundation and will provide technical support to these organisations in implementing protection and psychosocial support programmes over the next several months.
David Brickey Bloomer, Asia Regional Child Protection Advisor, Save the Children