When the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, teachers at Tokura Elementary School in Minamisanriku Town, Miyagi Prefecture, gathered their students and ran to higher ground.
The school, about 100 metres from the ocean, was inundated by a massive tsunami, which soon reached the students at their evacuation point. The teachers frantically ushered them to even higher ground where they finally found safety.
Nearly six months later, the school’s new gym, which was completed in time for the students’ March graduation, is nearly unrecognisable, a heap of metal and seaweed. A classroom’s clock is stopped at 2:46, the minute the earthquake hit. The endless cry of the cicadas outside is like an echo of the tsunami sirens blaring.
Many of the students from this school have found comfort in the World Vision Child Friendly Space in Tome City.
It is one of seven such spaces along the coast for children affected by the disaster. Children visit the Child Friendly Spaces to play games, study and participate in crafts and art projects.
Nine-year-old Miyako sitsdrawing at her desk. “I would like to have a normal school life. I want everything to be back to normal,” she said.
World Vision uses Child-Friendly Spaces in post-disaster settings around the world as a way to help children return to normalcy and to provide a safe, structured place to express themselves.
“In March, parents reported kids waking up in the middle of the night because of anxiety,” Yamano said. “The Child Friendly Space lets them talk to friends about what happened. Younger children and older children came together, and the elder children took care of the younger. We’ve seen healing and cohesion among the children.”
Today, five women from an art therapy organisation are volunteering in the Child Friendly Space. This is their third time visiting, and they lead the kids through activities.
Hiromi works part-time at World Vision’s Child-Friendly Space. She describes her reason for getting involved, “After the tsunami, my children were scared. I wanted to do something for other children that were affected.”
The Child Friendly Space is run at a former school, which closed some years ago due to lack of students. World Vision has provided a large, pre-fabricated building in the schoolyard where and has also brought in a mobile classroom to provide additional space for learning,
“This area has been highly affected. The Child Friendly Space helps the school to have stability and to continue as usual,” said school Principal Astushi Asokara.
Last Sunday, the school finally held their graduation ceremony, five months late. They invited World Vision to say thank you for all of the work that has been done. “I am finally a junior high student,” a graduate told World Vision.