Harold Giggler: CDS Volunteers Care for Children Following Asiana Crash

Photo by CDS/John Elms
A young client of Children’s Disaster Services in San Francisco following the crash landing of an Asiana Airline plane in early July. CDS volunteers are specially trained to help children use creative play to work out the feelings of fear and loss that follow a disaster.

Following the July 6 crash landing of an Asiana Airline plane at the San Francisco airport, five volunteers from the Critical Response Childcare Team of Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) worked with children for three full days from July 10-12.

The Critical Response Childcare Team is specially trained to provide care for children and families following mass casualties events like airplane crashes. The group worked in San Francisco at the request of the American Red Cross.

The following story from this CDS response was shared by team member Mary Kay Ogden. For more information about Children’s Disaster Services go to www.brethren.org/cds .

Harold Giggler

Four year old Harold Giggler arrived at the Crowne Plaza Children’s Disaster Services center in Burlingame near the San Francisco Airport on Wednesday, July 10. Harold Giggler is not his real name. We couldn’t pronounce his given name. The CDS Critical Response Childcare providers named him after we got to know him. He and his parents had survived the Asiana airplane crash on July 6, and Harold rode in on a deluxe wheelchair with a casted broken left leg, which was to be kept immobile.

Harold was accompanied by either his mom, his dad, a cousin or all three. There was always someone to interpret, but the main language of communication was play. It wasn’t until the third time that the parents left him in our care while they went to the hotel restaurant for some food. It can take a long time to earn trust, especially in a foreign country where your child’s language is not spoken.

The group of five CDS childcare providers named him Harold because the only crayon he had any interest in was purple. This reminded us of the children’s book “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson. Two of us had listened carefully to his name and repeated it several times. However, Harold did not respond in the slightest degree of recognition when we used it, so we likely mispronounced it and used the wrong intonation.

We had a low table that Harold could sit parallel to and reach most items. Harold started off with the wooden puzzle, which had nine shapes. The first time, and every visit afterwards, he took out and put aside the oval, half circle, and circle. He especially liked the black trapezoid. After completing the puzzle with colors up, he put it together again with the color sides facing down. Harold worked with focus and determination.

The more time we spent with Harold, the more he jabbered in Mandarin. We smiled and nodded a lot. While we could not pronounce his name, he repeated in English some of the shape words his father taught him, including trapezoid.

When we brought the purple play doh over to him, he began pressing the puzzle shapes into the play doh. That is when some major giggling started. It continued when we flattened out some dough, thinking this would make the shape pressing more successful. He decided it was a pancake and that it should be eaten. So we pretended to do so. Once it disappeared he decided teeth brushing was in order. The giggles just got louder and more frequent.

He painstakingly built a tower out of Legos, using only the blue and the red ones. After completion and applause, he knocked the whole thing over in a fashion very typical of any preschooler.

It was the giggles and the eye contact that informed our actions. When something dropped, he would look at us and then down, effectively saying, “Pick it up!” Like many preschoolers, when he tired of coloring with his purple crayon, he pushed his clipboard and crayon off his lap and onto the floor. After picking them up several times, we pretended to go to sleep by closing our eyes and putting our heads on our hands near our shoulders. Soon three adult women were doing this, and Harold laughed with enthusiasm. Then he joined us and would wake us all up with noise and fist pumping. We all mimicked his actions, and by then Harold had earned his second name: Giggler.

It was 9:30 p.m. when Harold Giggler left to see the doctor next door to get some medication for pain. We were all tired, but refreshed with the resiliency of a four year old who never complained, worked around his casted leg, and was very easily entertained. The name Harold Giggler and the memory of his lilting voice and laughter will always bring a smile to our faces.

[gt-link lang="en" label="English" widget_look="flags_name"]