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The Aftershocks that Shook the Hearts of Us

July, 2008
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n 2 On May 12th 2008 at 2.28PM in Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, the earth began to shake. So mercilessly it shook that in three short minutes houses crumbled to dust, schools were reduced to rubble and lives were lost forever. Even thousands of miles away in Shanghai, those in high-rise buildings felt the tremors. Though the students of YCIS did not, the aftershocks shook just as violently in their hearts.

At 2.28PM on May 19th, exactly one week after the earth shook, we bowed our heads for three minutes and joined 1.3 billion Chinese to mourn those that perished in the earthquake. As the sirens blared and horns honked, all students showed an incredible maturity in keeping silent and still. Many shut their eyes and prayed, while the rest bowed their heads in respect.

Even after we returned to classes, we did so with a heavy heart, forcing ourselves to ask a simple, but important question: “Can we do more?”

Jin Lee says yes. “We are enjoying ourselves while they are suffering,” laments the ninth grader, who teamed up with her friend Andromeda Huang to organize a bake sale. They raised 2,000 RMB, which is an impressive amount from selling scrumptious brownies and rice crispy treats for 5 RMB a piece. “We can do something to help those affected by the earthquake, so we thought why not?”

Jin’s sentiment seems to be shared with the student body of YCIS. With numerous students having organized fundraisers for the earthquake, it is obvious that through this tragic event, YCIS students have realized that they can make a difference no matter how small or large. We, as international school students, have shattered the stereotype that we were all born with a silver spoon in our mouths and are therefore too afraid to get our hands dirty.

Students proved this stereotype wrong as they got down and dirty in the art room after school and during art class to mould, glaze and paint clay bowls. This was all part of the “Empty Bowls Project.” This project was founded by an American art teacher in the 1990s who decided to fill clay bowls he made with food to get his students to think about others through their art, in this case it was those living in poverty.

Over 300 bowls are expected to be made in YCIS. These bowls were filled with bread and soup on June 13th, when students gathered in school to buy these bowls for a minimum of 100 RMB, with all proceeds going to the relief efforts.

Bread and soup represent simplicity and are the staple foods of the world’s impoverished.

“This project is unique because it isn’t just about giving a donation; the whole thing is a process and allows students to put their hands and hearts into the project. These bowls are made of clay; clay comes from the earth. Therefore, it is very symbolic that the money raised from this project will be helping those affected by the earthquake,” says Dawn Yorke, an art teacher that introduced the Empty Bowls Project to YCIS.

Tenth grader Paul Rechatin used a different source for inspiration for his self-initiated fundraiser. YCIS held a Terry Fox Run back in October, in which Paul came in first. When the earthquake struck, holding his own run immediately sprang into his mind. Paul held his own sponsored run where he displayed an incredible persistence as he ran for two hours straight, from ten past eight till ten past eleven, never stopping for a breath or a rest. He raised nearly 2,500 RMB.

N 1The raw courage and strength Terry Fox, the Canadian runner, showed can be seen in the people of Sichuan today. Despite their unfortunate circumstances, they are resilient, and many can even be described as fearless as they entered buildings in danger of collapsing to look for survivors and drained massive quake lakes that could burst and endanger their lives at any second.

Terry Fox was diagnosed with cancer in his late teens and had to have part of his right leg amputated. Despite this, he was determined to run across Canada. Unfortunately, his cancer had spread and he passed away on June 28, 1981. Throughout the world and in YCIS, his run is being finished for him. The Terry Fox Run held by YCIS raised nearly 20,000 RMB, all of which went to cancer research.

This goes to show the undying passion of YCIS students to take part in charity events and give back to those most in need, whether they are cancer patients or millions of famishing people in Sichuan with no roofs over their heads.

Superintendent Tom Ulmet was at the YCIS Chongqing campus when the earthquake struck. “I am very proud of our students and the international community who have joined together to offer their support and prayers to the people of Sichuan,” he stated. “[The money raised] went directly to local relief agencies who know the people, they have low operating costs, and they provide essential services on the scene, such as meals and shelter to keep people alive until the major relief is in place,” he emphasized.

He added that the total amount of money raised by all YCIS schools in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Chongqing and Silicon Valley through fundraising activities in aid of those affected by the earthquake surpassed 1,600,000 RMB.

Elaine Huang, a ninth grader, contributed to part of the impressive amount raised by all YCIS schools. She accomplished this by holding a sponsored silence on May 22nd after being encouraged by her friends to do so. She explained her friends had insisted that her talkativeness made her the ideal candidate to hold a sponsored silence.

Though initially doubtful that her fundraising idea would generate interest and ultimately donations, consistent urging from friends convinced her to carry out the event. “It did not matter to me how much I got, but I have to admit I was totally amazed” exclaimed Elaine, referring to the tremendous support from the teachers and student body of YCIS for her to hold a sponsored silence. In total, Elaine received 11,000 RMB in pledged donations, which completely surpassed her expectations.

“My parents thought I would never be able to keep quiet for a day, but I did it! It was definitely hard to remain silent though. However, seeing pictures of people crying over dead relatives and staring helplessly at rubble that was once their house was very sad. Knowing the money I raised can help these people made the silence worth it,” explained Elaine.

After the earthquake, numerous stories and pictures like the ones Elaine saw surfaced in the media. These pictures shocked and saddened all of us. Pictures of collapsed schools littered with school bags and students crying over dead classmates were particularly heartbreaking.

Many YCIS students were angered when reports stated most of the schools that collapsed were not built to acceptable building standards. So many deaths could have been averted. I sympathize with each and every person affected by the earthquake but, as a student, seeing other students my own age suffer compelled me to do more to help.

On May 23rd, I received approval to organize a Black And White Free Dress Day with help from some of my friends. Since our school has a mandatory uniform code, this event meant all students were allowed to come in their own clothes, providing they were not too casual and wore either black, white or shades of gray to show respect for the victims of the earthquake. This event raised nearly 21,000 RMB. It was rewarding to know the money raised will help the starving and the homeless in Sichuan.

On the very same day that students came to school sans uniform, elementary school Chinese teacher Wei Jin, along with her students, decorated large boards with slogans such as “加油四川” meaning “Go Sichuan” and placed them on the side of a busy walkway in the middle of the campus. Paper cranes bearing messages and quotes of support were also made by students and placed alongside the boards.

Students passing by were encouraged to write a message to the people of Sichuan on Post-its and to paste these onto the boards. By the end of the day, these boards were filled with touching and heartfelt messages from students, teachers, bus drivers and ayis.

“It is great to see China uniting to help the people of Sichuan. This is the perfect example of the Olympic sprit in action,” Wei Jin explains. As a torchbearer, I agree with her. China responded quickly and efficiently to the earthquake, and the ordinary citizens have shown the unity and strength of the Olympic spirit.

Wei Jin reminded that the purpose of this activity was not to raise money but to raise awareness. Furthermore, it allowed students to express their feelings regarding the earthquake that they might otherwise have kept bottled inside. Since messages can be written anonymously, students felt comfortable to write from deep in their hearts.

My own note read “Go Sichuan! You are in our prayers.” The people of Sichuan will always be in my prayers and in the prayers of all those in YCIS and throughout the world. As devastating as this disaster is, we must always look for the light at the end of any dark tunnel. We must find hope when we see a mother reunited with her daughter, a rescue worker saving a life or a child returning back to school. The people of Sichuan have been and will continue to be strong. Our prayers will always be with them.

By Natasha Weaser,

Year 10 student at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai

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