Students help break language barrier

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 April, 2010, 12:00am

Student volunteer Suoang Qiuzhan says it is her duty to help victims of the devastating earthquake that struck her hometown, Jiegu, eight days ago.

A third-year student majoring in Chinese at Qinghai University for Nationalities, the 22-year-old Tibetan has volunteered to help out at the Qinghai Provincial People's Hospital since the disaster hit.

Her primary task is to translate between Chinese and the Tibetan dialect spoken in Yushu county.

Hundreds of survivors from Jiegu, mostly Tibetans, have been sent to the hospital for treatment since April 14 and most cannot speak Chinese.

'Those volunteers are like angels and they've done a great job,' orthopaedic department head nurse Xu Anna said. 'In the first few days after the quake, we were having tremendous difficulties in understanding each other - between doctors and patients - and they helped us overcome the language barrier.'

Suoang Qiuzhan is helping a Tibetan monk from the Shangu Monastery, 25 kilometres from Jiegu, which collapsed in the tremor. With a broken leg, he was lucky to be among more than 200 monks who survived. At least 23 monks were killed.

'I asked for leave immediately after the quake struck because I knew I could be of some help as I am from Yushu as well, and my teachers are very supportive,' she said. 'I worked briefly at the children's hospital and then came here because I knew most of the injured people were being treated at the hospital.'

Her grandmother was killed in the quake. Her parents and five other relatives survived.

'I know how it feels to lose a close family member and I understand what the victims need,' she said. Her younger sister is also working as a volunteer at the hospital.

Most people receiving treatment at the hospital do not have their families with them and the hospital is running short of helping hands to attend to patients with yet more continuing to arrive.

'Many young students flocked here and offered their help on the first day or the day after, but we turned most of them away because they do not speak the Tibetan language and there was not much they could not do back then,' Xu said.

Suoang Qiuzhan and her sister are among seven Tibetan student volunteers who have worked day and night for the past week to help 26 quake victims at one of four orthopaedic treatment areas. They are among several dozen volunteers at the hospital.

Nima Ciren is another volunteer. The second-year student, majoring in politics and the Tibetan language at Qinghai University for Nationalities, said he felt honoured to be able to contribute to the disaster relief effort and help his fellow Tibetans.

'I wished I could go to the frontline at Yushu, but I know I can be of some help here,' said the 19-year-old, from Lhokha, southern Tibet . 'My heart almost broke when I saw those dreadful faces at the hospital. And I feel a lot better now having gone through the first few days, which were busy and exhausting.'

Nima Ciren said he still hoped to go to the quake zone in Yushu as a volunteer in summer, when reconstruction starts.

He said he was lucky to have learned more about the Tibetan languages in the past year. Apart from the standard Tibetan he speaks, which is based on the Lhasa dialect, he can also speak another two branches of the Tibetan languages - Khams which is used in Yushu and Tibetan-populated counties in Sichuan , and Amdo, which is prevalent in other parts of Qinghai.

Volunteers from other parts of the country have also flocked in to offer their help. Han Yu , a university student from Beijing, was one of nine classmates who had travelled to Xining to work as volunteers.

'We had wished to go to Yushu, but scrapped the plan after learning we might not be prepared for the harsh conditions there, such as acute altitude sickness,' she said. 'I was at a loss at the beginning, but I found my role and I am happy that I can help.'