Two years on, quake orphans move on with their lives

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Lying on her bed, 11-year-old Jia Xiaoli is busy making a poster for a class project. A few draft posters lie scattered around her.

Jia Xiaoli survived the magnitude-8 earthquake that struck southwest China' s Sichuan Province two years ago on May 12, leaving more than 87,000 people dead or missing.

She lost her parents in the quake and witnessed the horrific destruction of her hometown in Beichuan County.

She is among the 630-plus children orphaned in the disaster. Only 12 of them were adopted, with the others in the care of welfare homes and relatives, according to the provincial civil affairs bureau.

More than 200 of them, including Xiaoli, live in "Ankang Jiayuan" -- the county' s largest welfare house for Sichuan quake orphans. The welfare house is located in Shuangliu County near the provincial capital of Chengdu.

"She is a smart kid. She is outgoing and sometimes even a little mischievous," said Xu Peixin, her 23-year-old tutor, with a smile on her face.

The welfare home has nearly 100 specially-trained tutors to take care of the children. Some of them graduated from art school, and can also teach the kids singing, dancing and drawing.

One tutor usually takes care of six to eight children.

Besides quake orphans, Ankang is also home to another more than 400 children who lost their parents before the quake and those whose families are too poor to support them. All the children in the home are between 5 and 18 years old.

Xiaoli lives with three other girls about her age in a 20-square-meter dormitory on the fourth floor of the 5-story apartment building. They have even given their room a name: "Bamboo grove house."

"We named our home 'Bamboo grove house' because we love pandas," said Xiaoli, turning her head away from the poster she'd been concentrating on, sending her cute ponytail swinging.

The room looks very cozy. There are paintings, photos and star and moon shaped stickers all over the walls.

"We made that last week. It' s very pretty, isn't it?" said Xiaoli, pointing to a wind bell hanging on a ceiling light in the middle of the room.

She is attending the neighboring New Tanghu Primary School, a new campus built for children in Ankang. The new primary school, along with the nearby Jiujiang Middle School, was funded by Shandong-based Rizhao Steel Holding Group.

The group donated about 130 million yuan (19 million U.S. dollars) for the construction of the dormitories and schools. The fund also covers the children' s studying and living costs.

The children moved to Ankang Jiayuan in August last year. Before then they had lived in Rizhao City of east China's Shandong Province for a few months after the quake.

Every child here has a monthly allowance of 510 yuan till they turn 18, according to Qiu Lin, deputy head of Ankang Jiayuan.

It has been almost two years since the catastrophe. Although Jia Xiaoli is a bright and happy kid most of the time; she is still reluctant to talk about her parents.

"For most people, memories of a tragedy like this will take a life time to shake off." says Xu Peixin, "But, Xiaoli has handled it well. She is happy now. She has many friends and hobbies. It seems that she has stepped out of the shadow and moved on with her life.

"In the first few months after the quake, the kids were so afraid that even the sound from nearby construction work could frighten them." she said, adding "But, they are doing fine now."

"We have had psychological experts come here to talk to them. A test conducted by the No. 6 Hospital of Peking University at the end of last year showed that most of them have already recovered mentally," said Qiu Lin.

"I take them out almost every weekend for a stroll in parks or to find some tasty snacks." Xu Peixin smiled, "You know how much children like snacks."

"Now that they have come out of the shadow, the emphasis has shifted from helping them recover to bringing them up to be good knowledgeable kids," said Qiu Lin.

"We want them to be ordinary children. We are trying our best to offer a good living and study environment for them." she said.

Students from Sichuan University volunteered to come every other weekend to help the children catch up with their study as many kids were from impoverished regions where education conditions were very poor.

"Those who graduate from middle school can either go to high school so that they can later go to college or to vocational schools to learn practical skills. It' s their own call," she said.

"Though it's hard for some of them to get into college because of their poor grades. So they'd rather go to vocational schools," she added.

"Before I wanted to be a psychiatrist, so that I could help people feel better," Xiaoli said.

"But now, I've changed my mind. I want to be a math teacher or a Chinese language teacher, because I like these subjects."

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