CHINA> Hometown Reconstruction
Yingxiu school to meet highest anti-quake standards
By Wang Xu (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-05-12 11:10

Each time Tan Guoqiang raises his eyes to the picture hanging on the wall of his office, the principal sees the beaming faces of his 437 pupils and teachers.

Fewer than half of those people are alive now.

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The May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province last year destroyed Yingxiu primary school, located in the quake epicenter of Wenchuan county, killing more than 200 pupils and teachers.

Across the road from the original site of the school stands a stretch of prefabricated houses, which serve as temporary classrooms for the 165 pupils and 30 teachers who survived the disaster.

The survivors gather for morning assembly every Monday at 8:30 am, their backs to the debris of their former school.

After Yingxiu primary school reopened on its temporary site on Aug 27 last year, classes have steadily continued. The familiar sounds of a classroom - pupils reading aloud from their textbooks, desks and chairs shuffling, teachers writing on blackboards - can be heard throughout the grounds.

Pupils and teachers constantly try to put painful memories of the quake behind them and open a new but difficult chapter in their lives.

On April 28, Wu Jingyi, 8, received sets of her new school uniform from the headmaster. Jingyi herself was trapped in the collapsed building of her school for two days. Rescuers had to amputate her left leg at the calf to save her from the rubble. She was later sent to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, to recover and practice using her artificial limb. Jingyi plans to return to her school next year.

Upon getting her new school uniforms, Jingyi unwrapped the package excitedly and smiled at the sight and smell of the new fabric.

"See, the students are able to smile now," the 46-year-old Tan said, looking at his pupil.

Smiles were rare when the school first reopened in August, Tan said, with some students unwilling to return to classes.

Jingyi herself still jolts from her sleep on some nights, woken by nightmares of being buried in the debris of her old school, said her father Wu Xun, 34.

"We have made progress in the rebuilding of the hardware, but the future of these disabled pupils is a more pressing concern for us," Yingxiu's principal Tan said.

The authorities in charge of the school's reconstruction have already promised a new building for it and construction would begin once the details are finalized, Tan said.

With a total expenditure of 30 million yuan, the new classrooms would be built according to the highest anti-quake standards, equipped with brand new computers and emergency shelters.

Over the past few months, the school has received donations worth almost 1 million yuan, which have allowed the students to access new IT rooms and scholarships.

Still, Tan said his school, with all its temporary classrooms, lacks adequate facilities for disabled students. His teachers have also received only minimal training in psychological counseling.

Preparing to help his teachers cope with the difficult period of reconstruction is another challenge for Tan. Seventy-five percent of the school's teachers lost their loved ones in the disaster. Saddled with mortgages and bills, most of them now have little to call their own.

Every day, when Yingxiu's teachers walk out of their temporary school, a public cemetery for quake victims 300m away from the classrooms also reminds them of the disaster.

But "so far, none of my teachers have asked to quit. The disaster has made us stronger", Tan said.