Since a magnitude eight earthquake struck Qingchuan county, Sichuan, five years ago, killing more than 80,000, a Hong Kong education expert has been working on a reconstruction of a different kind.
Retired lecturer from the department of educational studies at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, Dr Philip Hui Kwok-fai, recently led a group of 38 teachers from 12 schools from Qingchuan on a tour of religious sites, including the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre and the Buddhist Wisdom Path on Lantau Island, and visits to schools that teach spirituality.
It was part of his project to help mainland teachers care for students' spiritual and emotional well-being.
"Frontline teachers in disaster-struck zones are confronting psychological issues," Dr Hui says. "Some are seeking answers to questions like 'Who am I?' and the meaning of life. It doesn't help when mainland experts talk about how teachers should love their students and be a role model."
Psychological education and emotional management are not emphasised in training for teachers on the mainland.
"Through the programmes in Hong Kong, the mainland teachers had the opportunity to observe how their counterparts here relate to their students and talk about non-academic matters, such as spiritual and moral values. Some even broke down in tears during the visits to schools," Dr Hui says.
The teachers also had a workshop at Dialogue in the Dark, the social enterprise based in Mei Foo, to help develop empathy for the blind and understanding of how trust and communication can empower a person.
"After the earthquakes, teachers have found it difficult to attend to their students' spiritual needs," says Professor Li Ning, from the Agricultural College in Beijing, who has been enlisted as an evaluator of the project. "The trip to Hong Kong has enabled them to experience how religion can foster mutual help, love and respect for each other.
"Even though they cannot talk about religion openly in a class in the mainland context, these concepts are rooted in Chinese traditions and culture."
After retiring from HKIEd in 2005, Hui founded the Living Knowledge Community to help reduce poverty through knowledge transfer in Gansu and Sichuan. In the wake of the 2008 earthquake, he swiftly organised spirituality and life education training for teachers in the disaster-hit areas.
Now, with a network of 300 volunteers including doctors, counsellors, academics and teachers, his group has provided training for 12 secondary and primary schools in Qingchuan.
So far, the project has served nearly 2,000 students. "Houses and schools have now been rebuilt and re-emerged as some grand buildings, thanks to the relatively sufficient funding from the government. However, teachers have no experience or training in handling emotional problems of students following the traumatic incident," he says. "We want to reignite students' hope for their lives."
He is now seeking donations for similar projects in Yaan, Sichuan, hit by a magnitude seven earthquake last month.
"We have gone there to find out what problems the teachers are facing. We also hope to organise a series of training workshops for teachers if funding can be secured."