I had grand ambitions for a kids’ summer camp co-organized with juku in Tokyo earlier this year. Unfortunately, my limited organizational resources prevented this from becoming a reality.
However, through the facilitation of Billy McMichael of 福島大学 I was able to make at least a tiny contribution to the much larger volunteering effort.
Billy picked me up in Fukushima and we drove to a town called Soma towards the cost and in the general direction of the No. 1 Nuclear Plant in Fukushima. On the way, I was able to lean a lot about developments in Fukushima since 3•11 and on the current situation from Billy.
Due to accidents of wind directions and rain, Fukushima has been the hardest hit by radiation. This has meant for kids, for example, that parents are generally not letting them play outside. Favourite summer pasttimes like swimming in the rivers (which accumulate radiation due to the soil and other sediments being washed down from hills and then deposited in the river). This lack of outdoor play is compounded by the fact that children who live in coastal towns are additionally hit by a number of circumstances.
Virtually everyone lost a car or cars that were swept away by the Tsunami. Many people have lost their livelihoods and compensation claims seem to be relatively slow in making their way to affected families. Many children have lost a friend or relative in the disaster. For families who lost their homes, they have generally moved from evacuation centres to temporary housing, but this temporary housing is often far removed from their original home. Many families have also left the area to stay with relatives elsewhere in Japan if only temporarily. Children have thus been separated from their friends, their schools are damaged, destroyed or had been evacuation centres until recently, their are living in remote locations with parents who are struggling with their own post-traumatic stress and don’t have cars to take kids anywhere, AND they can’t play outside. This is obviously a pretty devastating mix of circumstances for most children.
Billy and his fellow volunteers are trying to remedy this situation at least slightly by offering to host children in community centres for a day of games and hanging out. This strikes me as a really low-key but very important effort and I was thrilled to be able to contribute in a tiny way by joining Billy.
The group of volunteers consists of Fukushima-based JET teachers from around the world and a group of lifesavers from around Japan. It is particularly good to see the JETs volunteering to make up for some of the perception that non-Japanese residents of Japan abandoned their fellow citizens after the disaster struck.
The lifeguards had planned a series of games, most of which involved Janken in some way. After that there was some free play time that led to a lot of balls being kicked around, face-painting (one of Billy’s friends was terrific in drawing Totoro, Pikachu and other characters), and some lunch. About 25 children, mostly of elementary school age, participated, and days like this were going to be offered to the children (who were picked up by a community bus and brought to the community centre from their temporary housing) on a regular basis, certainly throughout the summer vacation.
Note that the situation for many of these children will most likely not improve for some years. I am therefore hoping very much that the failed effort to organize some kind of camp will be more successful later this year or next.