Teaching PFA in China After the Wenchuan Earthquake
Posted on December 19, 2013
Marleen Wong (bio) relates her experience teaching PFA on the side of a mountain to support victims of an earthquake.
Two and a half hours would be the best possible scenario for training Psychological First Aid for schools. However, I can tell you that I have trained people in 40 minutes, and the best example I can give of that is I was asked to go to China immediately after the Wenchuan earthquake in the providence of Sichuan, so it was outside the city of Chengdu near the panda reserves, actually in the bamboo forest. So it's mountainous.
And they had rescue and recovery workers there. It took us five hours over roads that had collapsed, over stream beds to get there, and they said, "Tell us what to say," and for the first time””because I've worked in China before”” they said the words "It's psychological." I had never heard that word before in China. That's not something that was ever said in the government, but the rescue workers said it quite openly because so many children lost their lives in the collapsed schools.
And the parents were grieving, and some of the surviving children they were grieving and terrified, of course, of this aftermath. So they wanted to know how to talk with children. And I said very foolishly, "Well, we are returning to Chengdu, the big city of 30 million, and we're going to be giving a series of trainings to many of the professionals there, to teachers and hospitals and clinics and mental health service agencies. And of course, we welcome you," and they looked at me quite rightly you're a very foolish person, and said, "You have to teach us now. You have to teach us right here."
And so on the side of this mountain gathered around me were 40 or 50 people, including children, and we all were clustered together, and within 40 minutes I taught psychological first aid to these people who were so well intentioned. They weren't the important adults, and they knew they would not be leaving this area of the epicenter. They had no way of getting out except by walking out, or unless the People's Liberation Army came with trucks for them to leave.
So that was my first experience and a very moving experience, surprisingly, as I spoke on the side of the mountain in the bamboo forest to people who were intently listening and taking notes in Chinese.
It's amazing how universal the human experience is, and how the needs and the way that we respond to them are very much the same no matter what the language is.