LOOKING FOR HOPE: Children from the Yushu Welfare House wait to board a plane flying to Xining at the Yushu airport, in Qinghai Province, on April 26. Twenty-one Yushu orphans would begin their new school life in the provincial capital of Xining after the 7.1-magnitude earthquake destroyed their homes on April 14 (CHEN GANG)
Nearly a month after the 7.1-magnitude earthquake reduced most of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu, in northwest China's Qinghai Province, to mere rubble, thousands still struggle with anxiety and stress disorders.
"It is common for people to suffer from irritability, anxiety, fear, despair, guilt, numbness and confusion after such an earthquake," said Guo Yanqing, a psychological expert with the Beijing-based Peking University No.6 Hospital.
Psychologists have already been dispatched to the earthquake zone to create a psychological recovery plan and train local counseling staff, said Liang Wannian, Director of the Health Emergency Response Office of the Ministry of Health, at a press conference on April 23.
Guo is one of three psychologists sent by the ministry to Xining, Qinghai's provincial capital, to provide psychological training to medical workers dispatched to Yushu.
Fu Wencai, Headmaster of Yushu's Hongqi Elementary School, told the Xinhua News Agency that counseling is a necessity, especially for the young.
"Although no one was hurt at our school on April 14, I'm sure fear has taken root in students' hearts," said Fu.
For Bayang, an 18-year-old Tibetan girl at the school, visions of shaking school buildings still haunt her dreams.
She attended a psychological intervention class. "We went onto the platform to read our written memories about the earthquake one after another, and many cried as they read them," said Bayang, describing the class.
The intervention program, conducted by Pei Shuangyi and his colleagues from the Tangshan psychological aid team of north China's Hebei Province, proved effective in comforting the victims after the even more severe earthquake that hit Wenchuan County in southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008.
"It is a method known as group intervention for psychological trauma," Pei said. "It can help students unload their stress."
Prior to the Wenchuan earthquake, domestic studies on large-scale disaster intervention were far from sufficient.
"In Sichuan, for the first time I met with so many people who had been mentally scarred. But thanks to that experience, we can do our work in Yushu more effectively and efficiently," said Pei, who has performed psychological counseling for 12 years.
They decided to target Bayang and her peers facing the upcoming college entrance exam first, as their mental state may impact exam performance, which is believed to be a key life-changing opportunity in this fiercely competitive society.
Shen Zhenming, Deputy Director of the Tangshan No.5 Hospital, who arrived in Yushu on April 20, said that approximately 30 to 40 percent of quake victims would require counseling.
He had already provided counseling for more than 50 people at local hospitals.
"Loss of homes, families and properties, in addition to worries about ensuing aftershocks, are keeping people in a state of fear and causing insomnia," said Shen, who is himself a survivor of the earthquake that struck Tangshan in Hebei in 1976.
Many people in Sichuan suffered from severe depression after the Wenchuan earthquake, and some even became suicidal, he said.
He said psychological counseling should focus on helping earthquake victims confront what they lost in the quake, as well as to speak out about their emotions and invest new hopes in the future.
Caring for orphans
Liang placed emphasis on the psychological recovery of children affected, especially those left orphaned by the earthquake, saying that specific measures would be provided to them.
The Chinese Government would try its best to look for families for orphans in the earthquake zone while providing them with special care, said the Ministry of Civil Affairs on April 23.
The ministry said government organizations and social groups would work together to care for the orphans.
The ministry would seek adoptions for all orphans in the earthquake zone as soon as possible and would fully respect the preferences, traditions and habits of ethnic children.
According to the ministry, social welfare organizations in Xining have set aside more than 300 beds for orphans and children whose parents or other family members have not been found since the quake on April 14.
The ministry also plans to mobilize help from other regions if Qinghai has difficulty resettling the orphans.
The Chinese Central Government and Qinghai authorities would jointly provide each orphan with monthly financial support of 1,000 yuan ($146) for three months starting from April.
While psychological counseling is conducted in accordance with the religious beliefs and traditions of the local people, religious prayer ceremonies for the bereaved are also being performed.
On April 28, more than 120 monks from the Thrangu Monastery in Yushu held a mass prayer service to mourn the dead.
It was the largest religious activity held in the prefecture since the devastating earthquake struck the area, local officials said.
Leshi, head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of Yushu, told Xinhua that according to Tibetan Buddhism, the first 49 days after a disaster was a period of intensified prayers to guide the souls of the deceased.
Because of this, religious activities in monasteries would be more frequent than before the earthquake, in spite of the damage inflicted, he said.
Previously, the 11th Panchen Lama hosted a prayer ritual for the victims of the earthquake on April 20.
Prayers were chanted in the Xihuangsi Temple in downtown Beijing to guide the souls of those who died in the earthquake to heaven.
Kampo Chenli Basong, the teacher in the Thrangu Monastery, said that without a new temple with ceremonial items, it was difficult to hold a mass assembly for believers, although routine observances had resumed.
The 700-year-old monastery was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake and its aftershocks. Twenty-one of the monastery's 230 monks died in the earthquake.
"It may take three years to build a new monastery," he said.
Eighty-seven of Yushu's 238 monasteries were damaged, with the Thrangu Monastery and two others completely destroyed, according to the rescue and relief headquarters.
Leshi said on April 26 that repairs to the earthquake-damaged monasteries would be one of the priorities in relief and rebuilding efforts this year.
"By the end of this year, we hope to restore the living quarters of the monasteries for more than 8,000 monks now living in tents," he said. n