One year after China earthquake, Mercy Corps helps foster long-term healing

May 12, 2009

Mercy Corps helps thousands of Chinese children recover from psychological trauma. Poor farmers and fisherman in Myanmar reclaim their livelihoods after devastating cyclone,

Portland, OR – On the one-year anniversary of the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that rocked the Sichuan Province of China, the global relief and development agency Mercy Corps reports that it is working with its Chinese partners to help thousands of children recover from long-term psychological trauma. The earthquake left 70,000 people dead – more than 5,000 of them children, according to Chinese Government figures released last week – and five million homeless.

Mercy Corps immediately sent staff to the earthquake zone and, with Chinese partner organizations, delivered truckloads of critical supplies such as water, noodles, milk and shelter items to survivors. In the months after the quake, the agency distributed kits containing goods like toothpaste, soap and shampoo to more than 12,000 displaced families. Vital schools supplies were also provided to over 10,000 children and teachers.

The agency soon transitioned to longer-term recovery work, filling a gaping void of psychological support for children impacted by the earthquake. Mercy Corps launched two youth psychosocial programs: Comfort for Kids, a workbook and counseling methodology first developed for children in New York City after 9/11, and Moving Forward, which uses sports to help kids interact, relieve stress, and reclaim normalcy.

“Psychosocial work is not well-developed in China. With so many children who had seen terrible devastation, and lost loved ones and classmates, there has been a tremendous need,” explained Yi Mei Chen, Mercy Corps country director in China. “Without these interventions, children could develop long-term psychological problems, behavioral issues, and severe depression.”

Mercy Corps’ psychosocial programs focus on building the capacity of adult caregivers - such as teachers and psychologists – to provide support and counseling to children. Thus far, the two programs have trained more than 1,600 caregivers who serve the needs of thousands of young survivors. The agency has focused its efforts on families living in displacement camps in the cities of Dujiangyan, Deyang, and Mianyang.

Mercy Corps most recently began working with its Chinese partners in Sichuan province and beyond to help communities better prepare for and respond to future natural disasters.

The Wenchuan earthquake was one of two disasters that occurred in May of 2008. Earlier in the month, Cyclone Nargis hit the cost of Myanmar, ripping through the Irrawaddy Delta, and leaving nearly 85,000 people dead and more than 53,000 missing, according to government estimates. Many more lost their homes and livelihoods.

For the past year, Mercy Corps has worked in the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar, helping more than 7,000 families rebuild rice paddies, fishing activities, livestock supplies, and kitchen gardens. In addition, cash-for-work programs and small grants have given over 25,000 people an opportunity to earn income for their households and helped restart their local economies. Mercy Corps is also providing shelter, water and sanitation to tens of thousands of families, and rehabilitating buildings like churches and monasteries that had been used as temporary shelters.

Both in China and Myanmar, Mercy Corps teams confirm that rebuilding and recovery has really just begun. Additional time and resources are vital.