Kindergartens at heart of post-earthquake recovery

China, October 9, 2013

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  • Children in Feixingguang village stand in the tent that has served as their classroom since their school was destroyed in an April earthquake. Photo: Cali Livingstone/Mercy Corps
  • This school was completely leveled in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The tents in the background are where the students are going to class, but they must alternate mornings and afternoons because of limited space. Photo: Cali Livingstone/Mercy Corps
  • Even schools that are still standing have been deemed too damaged to safely inhabit. We held a business competition to help kindergarten directors fund ideas for building repairs and improvements. Photo: Cali Livingstone/Mercy Corps
  • Most furniture and classroom supplies were destroyed in the earthquake. Mercy Corps, with support from Peace Winds Japan, distributed school supply kits to 48 schools to help get classes started. Photo: Cali Livingstone/Mercy Corps
  • A little girl reads the Comfort for Kids workbook before starting one of the activities. The signature Mercy Corps program helps children recover from trauma through creative writing and drawing. The materials are adapted to the specific situation and culture. Photo: Cali Livingstone/Mercy Corps
  • Little girls play on some of the new toys that arrived along with age-appropriate books, art supplies, games and technology equipment. Photo: Cali Livingstone/Mercy Corps

Earlier this summer, “Gangnam Style” had the youngest residents of central China’s rural Feixingguang village dancing in the street. Just six weeks earlier, these children’s homes and school were destroyed by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Ya’an prefecture in the Sichuan province.

But on this day, International Children’s Day, they were enjoying the annual celebration with music, games, a friendly Ping-Pong competition, and Mercy Corps’ delivery of school supplies. Even though they were still attending classes in hot, muggy tents until their classrooms could be repaired, their new books, toys, art supplies and games had them excited to get back to the normal priorities of childhood: learning and playing.

School supplies and improvement funds help schools reopen

Feixingguang is one of many villages where nearly all the homes and buildings were damaged in the April 20th earthquake — a disaster that killed over 200 and left 600,000 people without shelter or community. With an office in the zone, we quickly responded, coordinating water trucks and distributing hygiene kits within days.

SEE PHOTOS: Families finding hope after quake

As we focused on emergency relief for displaced families, we also quickly began planning for recovery. We began our signature Comfort for Kids program to help children recover from trauma. Early on, we also identified kindergartens as critical to the fabric of devastated communities. In addition to educating children, they provide a familiar place for youngsters to feel safe and give parents peace-of-mind to be able to leave their toddlers attended as they work on rebuilding their lives.

Kindergartens are also a source of livelihood for owners, directors, teachers, and school nurses and cooks in the areas they serve. Unfortunately, because most are privately-owned, they received little, if any, government support to repair structures and reopen.

Seeing the gap in support, Mercy Corps developed the Resilient Kindergartens program, with funding from Google. We are working directly with 160 early childhood educators to not only help them rebuild but to improve their skills and schools to provide better, safer education to their students.

The program kicked off in Feixingguang, followed by the delivery of more school supply kits to replace destroyed materials in 48 kindergartens, primary and middle schools throughout the three affected townships. In addition to furniture, basic supplies and books tailored to the local curriculum and age groups, the kits included new technology: a computer, projector, screen and piano keyboard.

We also held a kindergarten business competition so school directors could apply for improvements to their facilities. Most teachers told us these are ideas they’ve had for years. About 30 projects will be funded, from adding multimedia equipment and renovating nap areas to building a library and planting garden.

Better prepared for a better future

The heart of Mercy Corps’ approach, though, is giving local communities the knowledge to improve themselves for the long term. In this case, we’re training directors on financial literacy so they can better manage their business; early education techniques to better support their students; and disaster-risk reduction to be better prepared for emergencies.

The first training was held during the last week of August, in time for the start of school this fall. Mercy Corps’ program coordinator, Chen Yang, and the head of the Ya’an Bureau of Education led classes on better classroom management, identifying trauma in 1-5 year olds, and improved community and parent engagement. This included a full-day field trip to Chengdu City, just two hours away by bus, to visit exemplary kindergartens to share ideas and experiences.

“The lectures I heard during this training were targeted, clear, and easy to understand,” said Teacher Cao, who runs a bilingual kindergarten in Tianquan township that serves 130 students. “The experts gave us new information that I can apply immediately.”

It’s part of our ongoing work to help the most vulnerable communities in earthquake-prone Sichuan province continue their livelihoods even in the event of unknown risks. Along with local and national organizations, we train residents in 20 villages on preparedness and evacuation plans, personal safety, first aid and leadership in emergency situations.

How you can help

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