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For Children in Mexico, ’Back to School’ Means a Chance to Heal

Whitney Eulich - The Christian Science Monitor
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October 2, 2017

Toy animals stand on a window sill in a classroom on Sept. 21 as rescue workers participate in a search for students at the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Update: UNICEF Urges Child-Centered Budget Decisions for Rebuilding of Quake-Hit Areas in Mexico (UN News Centre)

The 9- and 10-year-olds, all wearing matching sweater vests and cardigans, are sitting in a semicircle inside the A Favor del Niño primary school, talking. The subject is bravery.

“A lot has changed in our personal lives, and if you want to cry, that doesn’t make you any less brave,” their instructor tells them on a recent Thursday morning. “Even adults have been crying over this.”

Ten days prior, a 7.1 earthquake rocked Mexico, leveling some 40 buildings here in the capital, including one primary school, and killing more than 330 people nationwide. Most of the city’s roughly 9,000 public and private schools remain closed, and officials say it could take up to two weeks before they’re given the all clear.

Many students – and parents – are eager for schools to reopen. But there’s a catch: The quake hit at 1:14 p.m. on a Tuesday, while kids were in class. So while reopening schools represents a welcome return to routine, it also means a return to ground zero. In response, educators, principals, parents, and NGOs across Mexico City are exchanging materials on how to talk about the quake with their children, how to assuage fears – and how to get back to work.

“We knew that once kids returned [to school], their last memory here would be the quake,” says Noe Gonzalez, the co-director of A Favor del Niño primary school. Some 146 students evacuated from the 1940s-era building into a small concrete plaza on Sept. 19, then out a gate and up a hill to street level, trying to keep their balance as the ground undulated beneath their tiny feet.

“It’s important to close that emotional loop,” Mr. Gonzalez says of revisiting the quake on the first day back to school.

Therapists' tents that have popped up in parks and at the sites where buildings collapsed speak to one way people are trying to do that, with counselors and psychologists essentially putting out their shingle and offering free services.

Read the rest at The Christian Science Monitor

Related: Mexico Bars Quake-Collapsed School in Capital from Operating (Associated Press)

Related: Authorities in Mexico City Will Begin Erecting New, Earthquake-Resistant Houses Within Two Weeks (Mexico News Daily)

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