Friday, May 23, 2008


How do I begin to describe how much brighter life has gotten in the last few days?

Here is an example:
I am volunteering my evenings to work on a trauma debriefing team. We meet with relief workers as they return from disaster-stricken areas. Today I debriefed a team of young men who had flown in from all over China intending to hike into remote villages not yet reached by aid workers. When they discovered that landslides and aftershocks made the path too dangerous for anyone to get through, they set down their tent in a local refugee camp for the night.

There, they noticed no one was smiling, no children were playing. They spotted an empty space cleared for tent use and persuaded the local officials to let them rope it off as an official "play zone." Kids who had stared at them with shock and skepticism as they initially entered the camp came running when they saw part of their refugee area turning into an space for music and games and limbo contests. The men had brought with them 1 guitar, 1 kazoo, and a sack of balloons. Instead of musical chairs, they played musical water bottles. One piece of rope managed to make its way into multiple games for multiple purposes. A limbo stick was made from a tree branch. At lunchtime, the kids had to be forcefully told to go "home" (back to their individual family's blue tent, shared with another family), they then came running back to play through the afternoon. When we spoke, the young men were hoarse from yelling and organizing the children, but kept going until night settled onto the camp. Exhausted, they said: "ok! let's do this again tomorrow! 10am, on the play field!" The children reluctantly went home and the relief workers fell into their makeshift beds.

At 6:30am, their tent started rustling. The children had gathered outside, ready to play again. By 8am, everyone was on the field, and another day of intense play began. Today is Friday and these workers just returned. Without meaning to, they spent 5 days organizing an impromptu summer camp for refugee children in the middle of Sichuan's quaking mountains. There are more layers to this story. Parents started gathering to watch the odd sight of their children laughing and smiling for the first time since the earthquake, and became protective of the field. They made sure that it was permanently closed off to all other activities other than play. Inspired, the principal of the local school came out of the woodwork from his own period of grieving and, with the help of these young men, organized all the teachers around him to open a make-shift school in the blue refugee camp tents. By the time the relief workers left, children had resumed classes.

As the "debriefer" on the other side of this story, I met 4 sunburned, dirty, beaming young men. They still had enough energy to make sure I got down the details of every one of their stories, noted all of the current needs of the refugee camp, and even demonstrated their limbo skills. I am awed, inspired, and so glad to be in Sichuan. The days are getting so much brighter.

(abc news thinks so too. these are my guys!)