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Sichuan quake survivors lead new lives, but recovery still far away

05-12-2011 13:42 BJT Special Report:Wenchuan Quake 3 Years On |

CHENGDU, May 12 (Xinhua) -- Liu Juhua has no idea about when the nightmare will stop haunting her, or whether it ever will.

"It usually starts with gigantic rocks rolling down the mountains and the ground convulsing, and then floods submerge schools and homes," she said, recalling a dream resembling the powerful earthquake that devastated her hometown in May 2008.

Liu used to live in the old town of Beichuan County, China's only Qiang Autonomous county in southwestern Sichuan Province. The small town was virtually obliterated by the magnitude-8.0 earthquake.

After the quake, more than 80,000 people were declared dead or missing, including eight people from the extended family of Liu, who serves as a public servant in the county's population and family planning commission.

"I can't help but ponder if the soul doesn't exist, why I often dreamed about my departed family members and friends around Spring Festival and Tomb-sweeping Day during the past three years?" Liu said.

Liu has witnessed hundreds of bereaved families regained hope of life after having new babies, and the local government is providing bereaved mothers who conceive again with free reproductive services.

She sincerely feels happy for them, however, "As for me, I simply can't move on," She said, although her son, husband and parents escaped death, and her family had moved into a well-decorated apartment in Beichuan's new county town, which was built about 23 km from the old town.

Liu said she might have mental troubles, but never sought medical help. Instead, she resorted to "self-treatment", as she simply persuaded herself to step out of the shadows and relaxed on the weekends.

Liu is only one of the numerous people who have turned over a new leaf of life, but are still unable to leave all the sorrow behind in quake-ravaged Sichuan.

As many bereaved people have remarried and moved into permanent homes from tents and prefabricated houses, they are gradually returning to normal lives, said Ren Xuemei, deputy director of the mental health service center of Beichuan.

Sichuan Vice Governor Wei Hong said in mid-April that all reconstruction projects would be fully completed by September this year.

Wei promised that living conditions and the level of economic and social development in quake-hit areas would reach or surpass that prior to the disaster.

"However, they still have a long way to go before achieving a full recovery," Ren said, adding that they found that most people felt reluctant to accept one-on-one psychological counseling.@ After the quake, many people suffered from symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, insomnia, anxiety and depression, Ren said. "But they equated mental stress with insanity."

Beichuan's mental health service center was founded on April 25, 2009, five days after Feng Xiang, who once served as vice director of the county's publicity department and lost his eight-year-old son in the quake,committed suicide in his home.

Feng's death brought the mental predicament of quake survivors under the spotlight.

To enable the mental health services to reach all 230,000 residents in Beichuan, the center established 60 service stations in the county, with 32 in schools, 22 in medical institutions and six in residential communities.

The workers usually provide group counseling, with 20 to 40 people at a time, according to Ren, who is in charge of training teachers, grassroots officials and social workers who work in service stations.

These efforts bore fruit, Ren said, noting "Now they are able to straightforwardly tell me their problems, such as agitation and insomnia."

Moreover, the center is paying special attention to officials who have been working around the clock during the past three years to meet deadlines for reconstruction projects.

"We have to drag them away from the computer and help them squeeze a little time to do sports, which is good for them to alleviate stress and strike a better work-life balance," Ren said.

The quake has probably cast a darker shadow over the lives of children, especially those who became disabled in the quake.

Sixteen-year-old Gao Xiaoqin, a girl with muscular arms, has never thought about a career, other than being an athlete.

"I just love sports," Gao said, adding that she had a preference for basketball and badminton.

Gao, born into a Tibetan family in Sichuan's Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba, suffered a pelvis fracture during the quake, which left her left leg noticeably shorter than her right.

Now, she studies and receives rehabilitation treatments with more than 100 students who were also disabled in the quake at Youai School in Sichuan's Dujiangyan City, more than 200 km from her hometown.

"The disparity of her legs has been increasing," said Joy Phang, Gao's physiotherapist from Hong Kong.

Gao said she would feel painful after walking 20 to 30 meters or at the moment when standing up, and when she created a 90 degree angle in her left leg, the pain would be unbearable.

Gao has been practicing walking with crutches, as suggested by Phang, but it makes her an object of ridicule, as many of her amputee peers have managed to walk with artificial limbs.

She was previously looked after by her grandparents and currently by her elder sister, as her parents began working outside their hometown when Gao was only aged two.

"I often tell her to work harder in order to do office work, as no boss will hire her to do heavy manual work. But she is often annoyed," said her sister, who earns 1,500 yuan (about 231 U.S. dollars) a month by selling motorcycle parts in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan.

Sometimes, Gao answered her sister back, "You don' t have to worry about what I can do for a living. Mother and father have been away from home for a long time, and you should be the next to leave me."

Although the chance of achieving a full recovery is slim, Gao does not miss attending her rehabilitation training, because she has not given up her dream of being an athlete.

"It is an arduous task to help these children walk out of the shadow. They were long buried in darkness under the debris and some received amputations after being saved," said Cai Yuyi, a Hong Kong social worker who has begun accompanying those children disabled in the quake in Youai School since September 2009.

After the unimaginably horrible experiences, some students developed a strong fear of tremor, darkness and loud noises, or even refused to communicate with others, including their parents, Cai said.

We have been encouraging the children to vent their emotions through painting, singing and playing games, she said.

"One of the most noticeable changes is that they've become more buoyant and willing to talk about the quake. I told them that to cover a wound can't make it disappear," she said.

Some parents always dote on their disabled children to help heal their post-quake trauma, which is unnecessary and harmful, Cai said."After all, they have to face up to more hardships in the future by themselves."

However, other parents who lost their children in the quake might have long regretted that they had not given enough love to their darlings, as they will no longer have the chance.

In a large cemetery where thousands of quake victims were buried in Yingxiu Township, the epicenter of the quake, a tombstone is particularly noticeable.

A red rabbit doll sits on the tombstone of a seven-year-old girl.

2011 is the Year of Rabbit in the Chinese Lunar Year.

Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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