寄付・募金・ボランティアのセーブ・ザ・チルドレン・ジャパン

Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami Emergency response and recovery program

Let’s Bring Smiles to the Children of Okuma!: Activities of the “Okuma Town Community Learning Support Council” Started by the Cooperation between Schools, the Board of Education, Universities and NPOs (October 4, 2013)

More than two and a half years after the triple earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 2011, there are still many children from Fukushima Prefecture who have been unable to return to their hometowns after being evacuated. According to figures released by the Reconstruction Agency in April 2013, there were about 151,800 Fukushima residents who were evacuated from their homes to places both inside and outside of the prefecture. This included as many as 29,148 children. As of August 2013, the total number of evacuees including children had dropped slightly to 145,749.

 

A day after the nuclear crisis began at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the entire population of over 11,000 residents was evacuated from the nearby town of Okuma. In December 2012, an area that held only 4% of the town’s original population was deemed safe to return to. A few hundred people have returned. It seems unlikely that residents from the rest of the town will be able to return any time soon, if at all.

 

At the beginning of the evacuation, most of the townspeople escaped to the Aizu region, the westernmost region of Fukushima Prefecture. For this reason, the administrative town office of Okuma was relocated to Aizuwakamatsu City, as was the town’s kindergarten, elementary school and junior high school. Of the children of Okuma who evacuated to the Aizu region, about 350 of them are attending the kindergarten or schools in Aizuwakamatsu City. There are also about 1,100 Okuma children who ended up in other regions within the prefecture such as Iwaki City, and who attend local schools there.

 

Town officials and school teachers have been trying various approaches to support Okuma’s displaced children, who since the disaster have been living in drastically altered environments. However, effective childcare has been a very difficult issue to address. In March 2013, the Okuma Town Community Learning Support Council was established in Aizuwakamatsu City. The aim of this council is to improve the quality of support for the children of Okuma who have had to endure a long period of evacuation from their hometown with little hope of return. By fostering cooperation between public educational institutions and private support organizations, the council hopes to promote the healthy physical and emotional growth of Okuma’s children.

 

The council consists of Okuma Town public officials and private support groups. Mr. Toshihide Takeuchi (Superintendent of the Okuma Town Board of Education) is its representative, and NPO Terakoya Hojosha (Aizuwakamatsu City) acts as its secretariat. From the Okuma public sector, the Board of Education, Kumamachi Elementary School, Ono Elementary School and Okuma Junior High School are all represented. From the private sector, Terakoya Hojosha, which supports Okuma children’s study and provides them with playing spaces where they can stay after school or on holidays in the Aizu region, as well as Professor Noriki Toda of the Junior College of Aizu and his seminar students, the Japan Terakoya Network, the Aizu Himawari Project Committee and SCJ participate in the council. Since last summer, SCJ has been supporting exchange programs for the children of Okuma and Aizu, as well as school buses and Okuma Junior High School to participate in the OECD Tohoku School. SCJ also attends the council’s monthly meetings that started in May.

 

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From left to right, Mr. Hiroshi Takeuchi (Okuma Town Board of Education), Mr. Toshiyuki Onoda (Principal of Okuma Junior High School), Mr. Yukihiro Suenaga (Principal of Kumamachi Elementary School) and Mr. Yoshito Watanabe (Principal of Ono Elementary School). The August meeting was held at Kumamachi Elementary School.

 

The council meeting is held monthly in Wakamatsu City, and each organization reports on their activities and discusses issues and their improvement plans. Student volunteers and NPOs play a significant role in supporting the children’s study, opening after school gakudo clubs and providing play spaces during weekends. At the meetings, we share information on the conditions children face that might be difficult for the Board of Education or schools to handle themselves, and discuss how problems that arise can be solved. Also, the council provides us with important opportunities to understand the educational activities conducted by the Board of Education and schools, allowing us to consider how NPOs could be further involved.

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Mr. Keiichiro Iwasawa from the Japan Terakoya Network. He plans and operates activities such as after-school study support and outside play activities during weekends.

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Mr. Kazuya Egawa, a director of the NPO Terakoya Hojosha. Before the earthquake he was already working for free schools and job assistance for young people. Since the earthquake he has also been providing support to children from the affected areas.

 

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Professor Noriki Toda from the Junior College of Aizu (Faculty of Social Welfare). He helped to prepare meals outside immediately after the earthquake and conducted surveys at the first and second evacuation centers. He also supported children’s study at temporary housing locations. Currently, he is trying to introduce a support model that implements a case management system for children in collaboration with the Board of Education, schools, NPOs and universities.

 

Through participating in this council, I strongly feel that schools can be a great force to reunify the children who were scattered due to the earthquake and nuclear accident. However, a vertical relationship between teachers and children, or a horizontal relationship among children, is not enough for those children from families that are facing difficulties. These children also need a diagonal relationship with people who are neither their teacher nor friend, but are college students or volunteers to whom they can talk about anything to, for example through studying together beyond the boundaries of school education. The Okuma Town Community Learning Support Council aims to create a new support model to share and solve the issues that each individual child has, through cooperation among schools, the Board of Education, universities and NPOs.