Teachers have come from all over China to teach at the Beichuan School in the Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County of Sichuan Province. Among them, one American who had been teaching in Chengdu.
The right teacher can make all the difference in a student's life, but particularly so in the case of these high school students, who suffered a traumatic experience in the earthquake.
Mr. Randy Simmon is from Missouri and arrived in China ten years ago. He has called Sichuan his home for the past eight years.
When he heard about the opening of the new Beichuan School, he immediately wanted to volunteer even though he knew the job would be challenging.
"Actually I'm here as a volunteer through the counseling office and am really focused on helping the kids rebuild their confidence, rebuild their trust in life. I mean, these kids have lost their parents, some of them have lost their limbs, their photographs and their CD players, we're talking about -they've lost everything."
Simmon points out that even before the earthquake, these students didn't have a lot of opportunities for their future, but he hopes that learning English will help them.
"I just wanted to come and do whatever I could to help further their education in English. Right now, I feel like English is a good way to advance educationally and academically."
One of the challenges of working with Chinese students is that expressing feelings and emotions is not a cultural norm, so healing can be a longer process for them, he says.
"These students are very adept at putting on a good face, like, ‘how are you?' ‘Oh Great, fine, fine.' But you learn to look past that and read body language and facial expressions."
Teaching effectively in such an atmosphere requires patience and flexibility, Simmon notes.
"You have to take on a whole other approach with these students, you don't want to baby them, enable them in their grief and sorrow. But you certainly want to join in with that and use that to motivate them to look toward the future--not to forget--that'll never happen. The scars will remain, but I'm here to help them as they struggle to move on and dealing with the past."
Moving forward is a delicate process, but many students have shared remarkable stories with him, including those who have triumphed despite serious injuries.
"A girl named Sophie, she lost both of her legs. She was actually training in Chengdu to be a swimmer before the earthquake. After, swimming became part of her rehabilitation routine and she succeeded in re-learning how to swim and used it not only as physical therapy but as emotional therapy. She was able to use this experience on her application to Sichuan Sports University, and she was accepted. So that's an exciting, successful story."
But it is not only students who learn from their teacher. Simmon says that by working with these students, who have seen the face of real tragedy has given him a new perspective.
"You know, we think sometimes in the States that we suffer or we have to do without. Even as I've lived in China for ten years, I think, my life would be so much easier if...And then I look at these kids who have lost everything and they've been able to deal with it. They've been able to continue their studies and they've been able to face another day. I think my situations are miniscule compared to the things they have done and had to go through. I feel now that it's changed my heart and I hope in the future I'll be able to cling to those lessons."
Mr. Simmon says he has learned strength and courage from these students, while he has, in turn, volunteered his time, friendship and support. In future years, when the students look back, it is teachers like these who will have made the difference.
Happy Teacher's Day.
For CRI, I'm Andrea Hunt.