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Cover Stories Series 2011> Wenchuan Quake:Three Years Later> Wenchuan in Retrospect> 2008
UPDATED: May 31, 2008 NO. 23 JUNE 5, 2008
Back to School
Schools across China are opening their gates to welcome students displaced by the Sichuan earthquake

SMOOTH ORIENTATION: Jiang Tao (right), who lost his home to the earthquake and has moved temporally to Chongqing Municipality to live with relatives, talks with his new classmates at Qiujing Middle School during a recess (JIANG XIAOYING)

The first day in a new school is usually hard for a transferred student, and it was particularly so for 17-year-old Zeng Yan. Not only was she in strange surroundings and a different city, but she had just experienced the psychological trauma of the earthquake in China's southwest.

Zeng was transferred to a school in Chongqing Municipality from Sichuan's Shifang City, where around 6,000 people died during the quake. Most of the buildings at her school survived the devastation, but were too dangerous to return to as frequent aftershocks shook the area.

At first, Zeng lived with her parents in a makeshift camp in the countryside. Nine days after the earthquake she returned to her old classroom to retrieve her belongings from the pile textbooks, stationary and concrete on the floor, finding everything but her chemistry and physics books.

Recalling the earthquake, Zeng sobbed uncontrollably as she talked about her favorite teacher in junior middle school. "A lot of buildings in that school collapsed. I heard that she was seriously injured on the leg while protecting students. She is such a great teacher," she said.

Zeng may soon find more great teachers in her new school, Qiujing Middle School in Chongqing, which welcomed her as its 10th earthquake victim.

On her arrival, teachers reassured Zeng, telling her that she would receive chemistry and physics textbooks, a school uniform and lunch, all for free.

The school has also arranged a professional therapist who will give psychological relief to the 10 earthquake victims and help them adapt to the new school. A group therapy approach will be adopted to allow the students to find role models in people with similar experiences.

Hearing about Zeng's arrival her new classmates clubbed together and gave her 20 schoolbooks at a welcoming ceremony. When this scene moved Zeng to tears, her new desk-mate gave her a tissue to dry her face.

Zeng cried a lot on her first day in the new school, but there is hope that her tears will pass with time. Jiang Tao, a 17-year-old earthquake victim who has been at the school for a week, has already rediscovered the hearty smile the earthquake temporarily robbed him of.

"Yesterday's aftershock was not too bad and my grandpa and grandma said they have become used to the them," said Jiang, with a grin. On the previous day, a strong aftershock measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale had jolted Qingchuan County, Jiang's hometown and one of the areas worst hit by the May 12 earthquake.

A falling brick wounded Jiang's head as he ran from a school building during the earthquake. He witnessed the bloody scene at Qingchuan while in an ambulance traveling to hospital, which was heavily dented by bricks from collapsing buildings. The house of his family also collapsed in the earthquake.

After recovering from his head injury Jiang and his mother moved to a relative's home in Chongqing. Jiang's mother was initially worried about how Jiang could resume his studies until Qiujing Middle School warmly agreed to admit him on her first consultation visit.

On his first day at his new school, Jiang was greeted by gifts of new clothing and stationary from teachers and 1,300 yuan ($185.7) in donation from his 63 classmates. In one week, Jiang has made new friends with boys in his class and now his biggest worry is how to catch up with his studies.

"The gate of our school has been fully open to students from the earthquake zone," said Wang Bing, Deputy Principal of Qiujing Middle School.

Up to May 26, primary and middle schools in Chongqing had accepted nearly 700 earthquake victims who are temporarily living with relatives or family friends in the municipality, according to its education authorities. The education authorities in Chongqing expect more transferred students as schools in the ravaged areas were badly damaged and limited teaching facilities were first given to graduation classes of senior high schools, who are preparing for their national college entrance exam.

Many schools around China are admitting earthquake victims forced to move in with relatives and friends in other parts of the country. Chongqing, the biggest city in Sichuan Province before it became a municipality in 1997, might become the largest temporary home to student victims among Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities due to its geographical proximity and close ties with Sichuan.

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