Today marks the fourth anniversary of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which took almost 100,000 lives and whose effects are still being felt today.
Today, Hua Dan reflects on our achievements over the past four years. What began as a small effort on the part of Hua Dan to bring some emotional relief and joy back to the region, is still going strong four years later, and has grown to a fully-operational regional office that has so far reached over 7,000 people, through over 250 separate workshops and performances.
At 2:28pm on May 12, 2008, even though Beijing is thousands of miles from Sichuan, we felt the earthquake strike, both physically and emotionally. As the terrible repercussions became clear, Hua Dan made the swift but carefully-considered decision to travel to Sichuan. We sent the first survey team that May to establish what assistance Hua Dan could provide.
While the relief operation was underway, thanks to the efforts of the government and many local and foreign NGOs, Hua Dan began to show how our participatory arts methods could help with the traumatic effects of the disaster.
The Hua Dan team travelled to various temporary accommodation camps and initiated numerous activities, in particular with the children: playing games, doing performances, and story-telling. In that so-called “silent month”, Hua Dan brought a lot of laughter to the affected.
As our team and methods became accepted and the benefits felt amongst the participants, Hua Dan formally established the Sichuan Office in August 2008, and continued to conduct regular, structured events in the earthquake area: not only in the epicenter area of Wenchuan, but also Mianzhu, Jiangyou, Pengzhou, Qingchuan, Zundao, Hanyuan, and Xiaojin.
To date, Hua Dan Sichuan has reached 7,340 people, the vast majority of whom are children affected by the earthquake. We have worked with 20 schools and, assisted by the generous support of 188 volunteers, carried out a total of 254 three-hour workshops. Since the end of 2009, we have run winter and summer camps for children in the region.
We have also shared our methods with other organisations. With funding provided by the British Council in Chongqing, in 2009 Hua Dan trained a group Sichian university teachers, NGO workers, students, artists, and counselors in the use of participatory arts, in order to vastly increase the potential reach of our methods.
But, why, after four years, is Hua Dan still working in the region?
By providing the affected children with innovative games, improvisation, and story-telling methods, they develop the capacity to apply these methods not only to develop their own stories, but to their daily lives and problems. This allows them to relax and regain confidence, learning to share and express their feelings; learning to understand others; providing peer support; building new friendships as the communities continue to rebuild and recover.
As many parents from the region are now, once again, travelling to the coastal cities to seek employment, many of the children are living newly-relocated schools, or with grandparents. As such, the time the parents can spend with their children is limited. Hua Dan’s family-oriented summer and winter camps invite parents to camp with the kids: living, playing, eating together, and through the Hua Dan activities, understanding each other, communicating and respecting each other.
Hua Dan is also continuing to train local teachers in the use of participatory arts in their classroom activities, allowing them to be a larger part of their students’ lives and education.
Hua Dan firmly believes that theatre can tap undiscovered potential in people, and can be used to promote social development and progress. As we speak, Hua Dan’s Sichuan team is working with its partners on planning a Community Cultural Arts Festival for rural women. And with summer approaching we are gearing up for another family camp.
We are grateful for the support of our generous donors, PCD, Beijing Improv, Leader’s Quest, Felicimo, Nike Foundation, Mercy Corps, WWF, Chongqing International Women’s Group, and the scores of personal donors and volunteers in Sichuan and Beijing, without whom we would not have been able to sustain our work over the past four years.
To support Hua Dan’s continued efforts in Sichuan and elsewhere, please consider making a donation.