SICHUAN, CHINA— The loss of life from China’s 2008 Wenchuan earthquake was tremendous, and many young students were among those killed when schools toppled. Some victims are still trying to recover, with the assistance of volunteers who have taken up residence in the newly rebuilt schools.
Wei Ling recalls she was in chemistry class when the Wenchuan earthquake struck.
“At first I thought my teacher was calling me and then the entire room began to shake. Even the television was shaking. The wall behind us ripped open and we all stared at it, terrified. But before I could react, the ground split open and I fell down and couldn’t feel anything.”
Collapsed schools killed more than 6,500 teachers and students during the quake five years ago. Now, charity groups like “Unilove” have taken up residence in rebuilt schools like Hanwang Elementary to help victims of the quake recover.
Ning Tianyuan, a former bank employee and teacher says volunteering was not easy at first - but the more she works, the more meaningful it becomes, she says.
“To communicate with these people you have to open up your heart, and then they can tell you how they feel. After seeing them a few times I became familiar with them, and they would also love to talk to us.”
At Hanwang, Unilove not only helps quake victims with counseling and physical therapy, but provides a much needed space for those who are physically or mentally challenged as well.
Some of the children are still recovering from the loss of their parents, or from injuries. The group is a support network for those who have been orphaned and being cared for by their grandparents.
But Ning Tianyuan says there are signs of progress.
“Such a huge disaster left a mark on everyone, no matter whether they were old people or kids, but now because there are many people who care for them. There are many charities. They have slowly come out of the pain of the experience.”
The quake cost Wei Ling both her legs, but it has not dampened her contagious enthusiasm for life. Late last year, she married. She is now beginning to learn how to walk.
“Sometimes now when I get sick or am facing some difficulties, I think back about how I got to where I am today, and it is difficult to know how I’ve made it through it all,” says Wei.
Following the 2008 earthquake, more than 600 non-governmental organizations stepped up to help out with recovery in the quake zone. NGO organizers say that number now has shrunk to about 120, with about a third focusing on work in schools.