Natural disasters are a funny thing.
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Natural disasters are a funny thing. After they happen, you constantly hear about it, the where’s, when’s, how’s and why’s. You are bombarded with images new stories, quotes. For a brief period of time, a day, two days maybe even a week everyone is talking about it. But through the flow of time we forget about them. After all, most of us don’t need to deal with it; we acknowledge that it was a tragedy of the past, and move on with our lives.
May 12, 2008 marked the date of one of the worst disasters to have hit China in recent years. An 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan in the heart of Sichuan province killing about 70,000 people and leaving more injured, homeless and jobless. For weeks, people donated money, food, aid to these people. Volunteers flocked trying their best to help. The government was commended for the excellent job they were doing to help all the victims.
When I first arrived in Beijing this past July, I realized one thing, the rest of China, like the rest of the world, had moved on. The Olympics were a month away, who had time to worry about the past? Yes, Sichuan was used as something to bolster national pride, but the people were long forgotten. Of course, since my main reason to go to China was to help with the earthquake relief, the victims were the first thing on my mind.
Arriving in the victims’ camp in Leiguzhen, Sichuan it was obvious that this was something that these people couldn’t easily move on from. These people were mostly from Beichuan, the area hardest hit by the earthquake. Everyone here lost everything they owned and a lot of them had lost most of their family. In the sweltering heat, they lived eleven to a tent designed to hold a family of six. The dirt and dust swelled up together, blowing everywhere and covering everything. When it rained, mud covered everything, flowing inside the tent and making the living space of the already small tent smaller. Everywhere they looked would be a reminder of where they were and why they were there.
Many of these people had nothing to do; they were farmers without farms, businessmen without businesses, mothers without children. Some sat around and let their heads fill with thoughts of despair. Reminding themselves of what they lost, of who they lost. Reminding themselves that their lives would never be the same. Others sat around and consoled each other. Walking around the camp, you would never be out of hearing range of tragic stories. The parent’s whose oldest son helped all his classmates out and had a metal rod impale the base of his skull as he turned to leave himself, the woman who had just finished paying off her house and have the earthquake destroy it right afterwards, the grandfather who ran inside a collapsing building to save his grandson, the man who saved a bunch of school children but didn’t have time to save his own son. Every person had a story. Every person had a tragedy. Every person wanted to tell their story to a country of people that no longer cared.
They say time heals all wounds. It’s hard to say what will happen to these people in ten years, twenty years, fifty years. The young children are doing better than most others in the camp, more resilient than ever before. Families that survived are tighter than ever. Volunteers that were there such as myself have learned more compassion, patience, and the understanding that life is precious. I can’t say what will help these people and I can’t say that all of them will “be okay” with time. But I can say that, as a result of being there as a volunteer, there are still people that are willing to listen to them. In fact, I know because my mom is helping the local hospitals start a clinic there for them. Perhaps there is still hope.