Buddhist temple acts as emergency maternity unit

By Huang Zhiling, China Daily, July 4, 2008

Sichuan, China -- Buddhist temples are not normally associated with obstetrics. Since the May 12 earthquake, however, 81 infants have been born in Luohan Temple, first built in AD 709, in the small earthquake-hit city of Shifang in Sichuan province.

Medics and nurses escorted three new mothers and more than 40 pregnant women out of the Shifang Women and Children's Hospital as soon as the first quake tremors occurred at 2:48 pm.

As hospital buildings began to collapse, Su Quan, monk in charge of the daily operation of Luohan Temple, urged everyone from the hospital to take refuge there.

"May 12 happened to be the Buddhist festival celebrating the birthday of Sakyamuni, when particular thought is given to helping the needy," the 42-year-old monk told China Daily.

More than 800 local residents took shelter in the temple on May 12; 4 days later the number had risen to 1,500. Su asked the resident 41 monks and 30 lay Buddhists to let quake victims occupy their beds. So many victims sought shelter on the night of May 12 that none of the monks and lay Buddhists slept a wink.

The temple kitchen, where monks installed two beds and two tables, served as a temporary delivery room. The risk of the collapsing during aftershocks, however, prompted Su and his fellow monks to erect six tents in which to perform Caesarean sections - often in driving rain - in the courtyard.

"As the electricity had been cut off and there was no trolley to hold the transfusion bottle, medics worked by flashlight and suspended intravenous medication from a mop while performing Caesarean sections."

The first new arrival after the quake was born at 7:36 am the next day.

"The cry of the first new baby resound ed through every fiber of my being; it seemed a ray of hope amid quake chaos," hospital chief Gui Fengchun said.

By last Wednesday, 81 babies had been delivered in the six courtyard tents.

Two boilers were fired up in order to provide potable water for 1,500 homeless people, and, as monk Zhao Shang told China Daily,

"Monks cooked porridge at 3 am each day to distribute to people taking shelter. They relaxed only after supper was over at 8:30 pm."

Many parents of infants born in the temple decided to name them Zhensheng, meaning "born in the quake," as a tribute to the kindness and devotion of both monks and medics, Zheng Tongying, chief of the hospital maternity department, said.

Workers from Dalian in Northeast China's Liaoning province, are now erecting prefabricated huts close by.

"The hospital is expected to shift from the temple to the huts by the middle of this month," Gui told China Daily.