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Survivors emerging from the shadow of disaster

ALTHOUGH a year has passed since the devastating Sichuan earthquake, Professor Zhang Yu is still concerned about the survivors' psychological well-being.

Zhang, of the East China University of Science and Technology, first went to the area eight days after the massive earthquake on May 12 to investigate the disaster's impact on the survivors' personal lives.

Since then he's been back three times to check on progress.

When Zhang and his team reached the area on May 20 last year, they found the people there were at a loss as to what to do and regarded themselves as "victims."

"They, most of whom were strangers to each other, lived in temporary shelters," said the vice dean of the university's school of social and public administration.

"They didn't know each others' first names and they tended to rely on rescuers rather than themselves."

Zhang and his team tried to get them to leave the isolation of their own rooms and get together in groups. They established a "longtang club," encouraging the survivors to adopt the lifestyle of people living in Shanghai longtang, or lanes. In a longtang, people, as if they were from the same family, tend to help each other and get together to talk.

"The outcome of our hard work was satisfactory," he said. "We encouraged them to make rules in the longtang, and to organize groups, such as poetry and dancing groups, to enrich their lives."

Becoming stronger

Zhang was back in Sichuan last month and found that the survivors were gradually emerging from the shadow and becoming stronger.

They had started to take an interest in the construction materials for their new homes rather than just food and clothes. They had started working, devoting themselves to the restoration of the hometown.

Some mothers who lost their children were pregnant again. "I believe the coming new babies will give them new hope, helping them to lead a brand new life," Zhang said.

Some of the quake-hit areas, such as Dujiangyan, have established their own social work organization, and Zhang is now an advisor to the Dujiangyan Social Work Association. "I give them suggestions in line with my theories," he said. "We are now thinking of establishing an online-platform to make communication easier."

Zhang said that as time passed it was natural that public concern for the earthquake areas would fade, but that wasn't a bad thing for the people there, because after all they should be relying on themselves.

"They will become self-confident again one day, although they still need more time," he said.


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