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Post-riot counseling offered to Urumqi students
By Cai Ke (China Daily Xinjiang Bureau)
Updated: 2009-09-02 17:11

Students traumatized by the deadly riot in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, will receive psychological intervention and help from their schools as a new school term officially started on Monday.

Teachers from primary and high schools in Urumqi were given training in psychological intervention during the summer holidays in order to help students traumatized by the July 5 riot which left 197 dead and more than 1,600 injured.

Some students have already taken part in the intervention. "We had just been given a group therapy on our first day of school, and if I need, I can now talk to a psychologist specially designated by our school," said Zhu Rui, 16, from Urumqi No 1 middle school.

"We had our first day speech on ethnic unity and the school has promised us therapy sessions in the near future," said a girl who didn't give her name from Urumqi No 8 middle school.

Li Lei, the headmaster of Urumqi No 53 primary school, believes communication is the foundation to ethnic unity. "Language is the key. The July 5 riot has made me realize how important it is for people from different ethnic backgrounds to understand each other," he said.

That's why the headmaster decided to give his students, the majority of which are Han, as well as the teachers, daily Uygur language lessons in order to eliminate communication barriers between Han and Uygur students when the new school term started.

"They can say 'hi' to their Uygur friends in Uygur; everyone needs to make the effort," Li said.

According to a recent psychological intervention scheme laid out by the Urumqi Education Bureau, the psychological intervention firstly targets those that were directly affected by the riot, such as students whose family members were killed or injured during the riot. Those who witnessed any incidents or were traumatized by live footage of the riot come second and third.

"The psychological trauma caused by the riot will affect students' entire lives if it is not dealt with in the early stage," said Lin Yi, deputy of the Urumqi school health care centre.

Students who are stressed should be given opportunities to vent their negative emotions and pour out their suffering, Lin added.

"That's why we have allocated psychiatrists to schools as well as provided training to qualified teachers so any student in need can be helped," Lin said. "They will play very important roles in helping students get out of the trauma."

The psychological interventions will be delivered in the forms of one-on-one consultation, group consultation and seminars.

The riot has inflicted trauma on most of Urumqi's 3.5 million residents, "both physically and mentally", according to Zhang Zhibin, director of a psychological health center at an Urumqi-based People's Liberation Army hospital, which hospitalized people injured in the July 5 riot.

Psychological assistance is called for, not just for the physically injured, but also for eyewitnesses to the violence, said Meng Xinzhen, a physician at Zhang's psychological health center. "Studies show that man-made disasters can lead to stronger and longer mental trauma on people than natural disasters. So I think psychological intervention is indispensable for Urumqi residents."