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Survivors

To think about what it means to survive and to want to survive.

by Helen Bryant

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To think about what it means to survive and to want to survive.

Preparation and materials

Assembly

  1. I am sure you will all remember the shocking images that came from the Caribbean island of Haiti after the earthquake in January. How many of you who have holidayed in the Dominican Republic knew that Haiti was the country next to that well-known holiday destination? We were all struck by the death and destruction the earthquake caused.

    One particular image that stood out for many was that of a tiny baby left among a pile of other dead bodies, unclaimed and mourned by no one, like so many people in a disaster that claimed somewhere in the region of 200,000 lives.
  2. Nonetheless, even among all the death there was life – urgent, breathing, heart-racing life. Listen to some stories of hope, survival and absolute miracle of survivors of the earthquake.

    Relate some survivors’ stories or ask students to read them.
  3. You may ask, what makes these people the lucky ones? Why did they survive when so many others died?

    There is a psychological condition called ‘survivor’s guilt’, which occurs when a person perceives that it was wrong that they survived a traumatic event when many others, sometimes those close to them, died. After the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, many survivors needed counselling to get over such feelings.
  4. In Haiti, people were discovered alive days, even weeks after the initial earthquake. The survival of these people has been described as miraculous. A miracle is literally defined as ‘an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause’. It is something that breaks the laws of nature, cannot be explained and is sometimes attributed to God.
  5. There usually appeared to be clear reasons to explain why people survived. They may have been trapped inside air pockets, or were in places where they could access water and hadn’t been too badly injured.

    However, what that doesn’t speak about, and what cannot be tested, is the inspiration and will of a person to survive. It is the will, or the fight, to live. None of us knows how strong that survival mechanism is until it is truly tested. You refuse to be beaten or left alone to die under the rubble and so you shout, hit things, sing songs or do anything you can to make yourself heard. One little girl was rescued when a reporter who was filming nearby heard her, and began to dig her out.
  6. A strong faith can be a source of the will to survive. The power of people’s faith that God would save them was startling in some of the rescue stories from Haiti. They believed in the power of prayer that God would send someone to save them. It is the idea that you are not forsaken.

    Ena Zizi was one of the survivors pulled from the rubble. ‘I talked only to my boss, God,’ she said. ‘And I didn’t need any more humans.’ It seems amazing that belief and faith kept people strong. They did not sit and blame God for the fact that they were trapped. They didn’t blame the buildings or the people that built them for not being ‘life safe’. They used their faith to make them strong, to give them the reserves of strength and resilience they probably didn’t know that they had; and for them, it was given them by God. It was the power of mind over matter, the feeling that even though hope seems small, there was no reason to give in and die.

Time for reflection

Think about those survivors from Haiti.

When things get tough for us, may we remember those people pulled from the rubble. Let us draw strength from their strength and marvel at the miracle of their faith and the miracle of their survival. 

Prayer

Almighty God,

You are the Father of mercy.

You are the Lord of your compassion.

You are the Spirit of encouragement.

You are the deliverer of strength and the giver of life.

Help us to draw strength from those who show us their faith in action.

Amen.

Music

Play one of the tracks released for the Haiti appeal.

Publication date: May 2010   (Vol.12 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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