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A Rural School in China Recovers From An Earthquake — With Help From Louisville

Liu Ling

Xiang-E School was one of many structures destroyed in 2008, when a massive earthquake hit the Sichuan region of China. Today it’s the site of music classes, play writing, and summer camps. And a group from Louisville has been pivotal in its recovery.

In his new book, “Rebirth After the Earthquake,” University of Louisville math professor Wei-Bin Zeng says he wanted to help not just rebuild the physical school, but redevelop its educational program to include music, science, English and art.

"Our contribution to the school is not really just the rebuilding process — it is the rebuilding of the education program after the we finished the new campus," he said. "Music, art, English and science. Those were the programs that give this school life."

Zeng said Xiang-E was one of the schools most affected by the disaster. The middle school portion of the building collapsed around 2:30 in the afternoon that day, burying 420 students. Only about 50 were rescued alive.

Zeng visited the site during the rebuilding process, and he found a community still in shock. "At the time, nobody wanted to talk about it," he said. "Nobody really wanted to talk about the earthquake."

So he started raising money, eventually collecting $120,000 to go toward improvements to the new school and its programming.

Now, educators from Louisville facilitate summer camps every year at Xiang-E. Music therapists and members of the U of L School of Music faculty have visited to work with the campers, as have the Squallis Puppeteers. Zeng said traditional Chinese education is task-oriented and doesn’t always leave room for expression. That’s what his program tries to provide.

"I would like them to be keeping their imagination, develop their creativity," he said. "Be happy in school."

A collection of handpainted ceramic tiles covers one wall inside the school, created and submitted by children throughout Kentucky and China. The finished product is a mural called: "We Are Together."

A presentation and release party for “Rebirth After the Earthquake" will take place Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. It's part of the lead up to WorldFest, which happens this weekend on the Belvedere.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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