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Survivors recount earthquake's toll on schools in Qinghai Province, China

© UNICEF China/2010/Jerry Liu
On 17 April 2010, a young survivor waits for relief food at the No. 3 Complete Primary School in Yushu County, located in China's Qinghai Province. At least 34 students from the school were killed in the 14 April earthquake.

By Jin Bo

JIEGU, China, 26 April 2010 – When this small town in remote western China was hit by an earthquake on 14 April, 13-year-old Sangqiuyixi was sweeping the floor of his classroom at Yushu No.2 Ethnic High School. He broke the window and managed to escape.

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“The dust was blowing here and there,” he recalled. “I could not even see the roads.”  The classroom building, and another building at his school, soon collapsed.

The earthquake struck at around 8 a.m. local time, when most students were already in school. Like Sangqiuyixi, every student who survived now has a story to tell.

Heavy toll on schools
Located in the southern part of Qinghai Province, Jiegu is the seat of Yushu County. It is close to the provincial border with Tibet Autonomous Region, and more than 90 per cent of its population of about 100,000 are ethnic Tibetans.

© UNICEF China/2010/Zhao Jia
This family was rescued after being buried for four hours under their house after the earthquake in Qinghai Province, China.

The magnitude-7.1 earthquake took a heavy toll on schools. Local authorities estimate that 80 per cent of primary schools and half of secondary school buildings in the county were severely damaged.

Yushu is a large but sparsely populated county, and half of the students in Jiegu are boarders from families who live hours away.

“When the earthquake struck, we were all eating in the dining hall in our school,” said Dejiyongzang, a local teacher. “The students were horrified and ran to the playground.”

Nimajiangcai, a teacher from Yushu No.3 Wanquan Elementary School, said four of that school’s seven one-story buildings had collapsed and at least 29 bodies had been found in the rubble.

Resuming classes
Despite such devastation, many schools are working quickly to resume classes and restore a sense of normalcy for students.

© UNICEF China/2010/Jerry Liu
A child plays alone near collapsed houses at the earthquake's epicentre in Jiegu town, located in Yushu County, Qinghai Province.

At Yushu No.3 Wanquan Elementary School, volunteers have cleared away the rubble to make room for prefabricated classrooms. Nimajiangcai said he was looking for volunteers to who can both teach classes and provide psychological counselling for quake-affected children.

With local education authorities vowing to resume classes by the end of April, such makeshift classrooms are appearing across the earthquake zone. 

The new Yushu School for Orphans, for example, opened on 17 April, just three days after the quake. Dejiyongzang, who now teaches there, said the school had two tents for boys and three for girls. Each tent accommodates between 20 and 30 children.

Supplies and safe spaces
In addition to the aid provided by the Chinese Government, UNICEF is sending school tents, school supply kits and generators, as well as warm clothing and blankets for students in the affected areas.

The agency is also joining hands with China’s National Working Committee on Children and Women to establish ‘child-friendly spaces’ where young survivors of the earthquake can receive psycho-social support in a protective environment.

Cairenlagong, a boy who lost his parents and younger brother in the quake and now lives with his uncle’s family, said he hopes children will cherish the opportunity to continue going to school after the disaster. “I hope the school will be rebuilt and students will work hard,” said Cairenlagong. Although he is now an orphan, he noted that many other young survivors are not, adding:” I hope they live for their younger brothers and sisters.”




17 April 2010: UNICEF correspondent Vivian Siu reports on earthquake relief efforts and obstacles faced by children and families in Jiegu town, Qinghai Province, China. Videographer: Jerry Liu
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