While construction fleets help survivors of the May 12 earthquake rebuild their cities, Zhang Ling is helping them rebuild their lives.
Life is still hard for many traumatized quake survivors seven months after the magnitude-8 earthquake ravaged southwest China, claiming about 70,000.
The volunteer mental health counselor from the quake-zone-based psychological counseling center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has spent more than half a year assisting grieving victims who lost family and friends. She has chosen to take their sorrows along with her own but said she is grateful for the opportunity to bring new hope to her patients.
"Most of the people we've talked to have shown positive signs of recovery," Zhang said.
Zhang gave up her job at a hospital in Hunan's provincial capital Changsha soon after the quake to join the psychological intervention program in Mianyang, one of the most devastated areas.
Her patients have included teachers and students, and rescue workers who suffered severe psychological trauma after failing to save thousands buried under the rubble.
"After many sessions, I can see they begin to reflect on their lives and think about the future, although it still may take them a long time to completely walk out from under the disaster's shadow," Zhang said.
In a prefabricated building in which one of the CAS counseling offices is located, at the temporary site of Beichuan High School in Mianyang, Zhang's kindness and humor consistently bring smiles to her students.
The quake razed the school, killing more than 1,000 students and 40 teachers, and leaving about 70 disabled.
While students' memories of the tragic moment when the classrooms collapsed remain sharp, they appear to be perfectly at ease with "Zhang Laoshi" (Teacher Zhang), the woman who showers them with motherly love and offers them generous help whenever needed.
Along with another three colleagues, Zhang has turned the 15-sq-m office into a safe haven for students.
Here, they can privately pour their emotions out to stuffed animals.
"These students need to have someone who understands and shares their sorrows and fears," Zhang said.
"Many of them suffer from horrible nightmares. By staying close to them, we are trying to drive despair from their minds and encourage them to carry on with life."
But it has not been easy. Even with reconstruction well underway and new hope emerging, many still suffer recurring flashes of despair when recalling the quake, Zhang said.