Save the Children in China

The truth behind the headlines in China

Kate Redman, media officer for Save the Children, continues her exclusive reports for marieclaire.co.uk from China…

After several coffees, and a staff update, we decided to split up into two groups. I was to accompany some media to Deyang, my colleagues to go to Dujianyang. Both rank high in terms of destruction and lives lost.

We picked up some ‘lunch’ to eat on the way – fish-food-flavoured crisps, sweetcorn lollies and strawberry marshmallows…

People follow the rules everywhere here, it seems, apart from when on the roads. With absolute disregard for which side of the road they’re driving on, it took about 40 minutes to get out of Chengdu, and then another hour and a half over increasingly cracked roads to Deyang. As in Chengdu, people were camping out on the banks in the middle of the motorways, and, with the buildings becoming increasingly frail as we drove into the countryside, it seemed most had some sort of sleeping arrangement outside their front doors.

The time it took to get out of Chengdu is due to its size – a good indication of how it is so many numbers are involved in this tragedy.The toll of numbers dead is what makes the headlines, but what is now more obvious here, seeing as the troops have moved like clockwork to rifle through rubble and dispose of corpses, is how many survivors there are. Beichuan, the worst affected town up in the hills, is reportedly being entirely cleared. In total, 12 million are reported displaced because of damaged or destroyed houses. I find that sum totally impossible to fathom.

On arrival at Deyang, I found that our destination was not the city centre (now a ghost town), but, instead a large open space to one side of a motorway. There, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a jolly holiday campsite somewhere in France – the tents are all lined up with immaculate precision, blue then white, then a few camouflage ones, etc… It’s inside that you start to understand the dark side of this situation.

Yu Sha (pictured here), was a 13-year-old girl I met in one tent, who invited me in, pushing a rashioned bottle of water in my hand and giving me the best place to sit on her sleeping bag. She told me that she had lost her stepmother in the quake, her father worked out of town and had yet to make his way back to her. For now, unsure of whether her father would be able to find where she was, she was living with the possibility that she would have to spend the rest of her days with her 88-year-old grandad. Her grandad had tears slowly falling from his eyes. Incredibly frail, and probably unsure of our conversation, he simply pushed his identification card into my hand. 1920, May the 24th, was his birthday. A quick calculation reminded me that was in three days.

It’s in camps like these that Save the Children is going to set up community centres where children can congregate and play together, talking through their experiences and finding some learning materials to keep their education going. Yu Sha, for example, didn’t know if any of her friends had survived the quake, and only recognised a few people in the tents next door. When I asked her if she’d made any new friends and talked to them about how she was feeling, she told me she was too sad to talk to anyone or go anywhere. Yet again, I felt relieved that we were bringing child psychologists to this scene, and felt proud of the value of the awareness that our organisation has of these children’s needs.

A late night working again. I’m going to have be more sensible about sleeping if I’m to keep up my energy for my stay.

Check back tomorrow for more updates from Kate, and CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s report.

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