Sometimes it’s the intangibles that can make all the difference in healing after a disaster. In relief worker lingo, we sometimes refer to things like the trainings, capacity building and youth post-traumatic recovery work we do as the “software.” In the Tibetan Plateau province of Qinghai — where a devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Yushu County on April 14 — Mercy Corps and our partners are bringing some of this software to a very special and unique group of survivors and teachers.
In contrast to the provision of food, water, new houses, schools and roads — the "hardware" — that’s being undertaken by the local government in Qinghai province, Mercy Corps’ Comfort for Kids program benefits are something you can’t simply touch and feel with your hands. This program reaches a little deeper below the surface.
Last weekend, our team was back on location in Yushu with our trainer from the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake Youth Psychosocial Program, introducing the "My Earthquake Story" workbook for child survivors and talking local teachers through the methodology of the program. The workbook allows a safe and personal space for young survivors to express their unique experience from the disaster — with spaces to draw and color, write about their losses, emotions and fears. This is indeed their very own earthquake story.
Last Saturday, 42 teachers attended our training session on the "My Earthquake Story" workbook methodology at the 3rd Primary School in Yushu Town. In addition to being introduced to the tools and methods, Mercy Corps’ team and trainers learned a great deal from the teachers about local Tibetan culture and what things in the workbook would need to be updated to suit the local context.
The idea is that, through this training and the workbook updates, the teachers will be ready to work with the 3,000 students once they return to the classroom after the summer break. The team wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Would the Tibetan teachers and youth accept this sort of exercise? What would work and what would not? With the blessing of the school principal, our team did a pilot run with two 5th grade classes on Sunday — many of these kids lost family members and friends in the quake.
What did we learn? We learned that youth the world over, while different in so many ways, all desire comfort and care in times of trauma and uncertainty. We learned what culturally-sensitive adjustments to the workbook will make the program even better. We learned that the passion and backing of the program by the local principles and partners makes all the difference.
Now it’s time to make the little tweaks and prepare for a the next, larger phase.