Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan)

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan(AAR Japan) is a Non-Governmental Organization ( NGO ) aiming to provide emergency assistance, assistance to people with disabilities, and mine action, among other operations. It was established in 1979 as an organization with no political, ideological, or religious affiliation. AAR currently has offices in 10 countries.
Jul 7, 2015

Tomioka Kindergarten looks forward to new play equipment

Children between 1 and 2 at Tomioka Kindergarten
Children between 1 and 2 at Tomioka Kindergarten

The radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant followed by the Great East Japan Earthquake had a devastating impact on Tomioka Town, Futaba County, Fukushima Prefecture. Tomioka Town where Tomioka Kindergarten used to be located at is approximately 12km away from the power plant. All of the Tomioka residents were forced to evacuate after the nuclear accident. As Aizu-Wakamatsu City in the western part of Fukushima Prefecture decided to accommodate evacuees from the coastal area, Tomioka Kindergarten relocated itself to the city. Tomioka Kindergarten resumed its operation in September 2011 using an old kindergarten building in Aizu-Wakamatsu City. After reopening, the kindergarten began accepting children who evacuated to the city, and 15 children attend the kindergarten as of June 2015.

After it resumed operation, Tomioka Kindergarten was hardly equipped for a while. The old building that the kindergarten relocated to did not have any play equipment as it was not in use for long. They also could not bring play equipment and toys from Tomioka Town due to radiation contamination. Ms. Horiuchi, the principal of the kindergarten, advocated the needs for support through calling and visiting national, prefectural and local administrations, and relief organizations in order to provide child evacuees with appropriate environment for childcare. In the midst of chaos after the disaster, however, no one had capacity to extend their helping to Tomioka Kindergarten. When Ms. Horiuchi thought all the options had been exhausted, she came across a news article about AAR Japan’s project of play equipment provision on our website. Subsequently, she contacted us in June 2012. It had been more than one year since she started looking for an organization that could offer assistance to her kindergarten.

Soon after Ms. Horiuchi reached out to us, we decided to support her initiative, and provided a sandbox and a tent for shading. In April 2015, Tomioka Kindergarten started to accommodate children under two years old in addition to children between ages of three and six. Taking the expansion of the services into consideration, AAR Japan decided to provide indoor play equipment that is suitable for children over one and a half years old utilizing GlobalGiving’s grant. Ms. Horiuchi, in consultation with AAR Japan, chose specific wooden equipment, which allows children to think of a variety of ways to play, and thus enhancing their creativity. The said equipment also provides children with opportunities to touch and play with wood, rather than iron or plastic. In addition, the equipment is transferable. Tomioka Kindergarten hopes to move back to its home town in the future, and therefore transferable equipment would ensure children to enjoy the equipment for a long time. Both the kindergarten staff including the principal and the children are very much looking forward to the equipment that is due to arrive in August.

In our interview, Ms. Horiuchi recalled, “After the disaster, the children evacuated to different areas. We were all scattered around Japan.” She continued, “I would be delighted if children who evacuated to Aizu-Wakamatsu City and endured hardships as evacuees made great memories in this kindergarten.”

Among families with young children, there are those who cannot fit in with their new communities, and decide to return home despite high levels of radiation. Tomioka Kindergarten accommodates children and their families who have endured similar hardships, and therefore they developed a sense of unity. Such sense of unity contributes to bringing much needed comfort to children and their families evacuated from Tomioka Town. 

May 11, 2015

The 4th Children's Festival in Takami Park, Fukushima Prefecture

Carp streamers for the Children
Carp streamers for the Children's Day

May 5th is Children’s Day, a national holiday in Japan. This year, AAR Japan, in collaboration with an NPO called Peace Project, held Children’s Festival at Takami Park in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture. The event aimed at supporting leisure for families with children in Soma and Minamisoma Cities, and attracted more than 500 people.

We put up colorful carp streamers in the park, which is a tradition for Children’s Day to pray for children’s success and health. We also brought mini-bowling, mini-golf, ring toss, bouncy-ball scooping, and balloon playground to the park, which were extremely popular among the participating children. Under beautiful spring weather, children’s joyous laughter echoed throughout the day. 

Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida brought her grandson to the event. They kindly accepted to be interviewed about their family and experience at the event. The couple used to work as farmers, growing cucumbers and garland chrysanthemum,in Odaka District, Minamisoma City, which is 17 kilometers away from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. After the earthquake and nuclear accident, however, they were forced to abandon their home and agricultural land. They now live in a temporary housing complex in Kashima District, Minamisoma City, away from their daughter and grandson. “Our daughter is a single mother, and lives with this boy in Soma City. Even on national holidays, she has to work”, Mrs. Yoshida said. “She brought the event flyer to us, and we decided to come with our grandson. Our age makes it difficult to take our grandson to beach or mountain, but this kind of event is very accessible. We appreciate such an opportunity.”

As for the future prospects, the couple wants to leave the temporary housing complex in April, 2016. However, uncertainty and anxiety linger. Farming is extremely difficult to resume once interrupted. In addition, agricultural and fishery products are hit hard by rumors about radiation, and the rumors do not seem to fade away. They occasionally go back to their home in Odaka District to clean and repair.

After the interview, Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida and their grandson enjoyed the event throughout the day, eating fried-noodles and ball konjac, which AAR Japan offered at the event for free. The grandson also had fun playing in the balloon playground, and with mini-bowling and bingo. At the end of the day, Mr. Yoshida told us, “If there are more of these kinds of events, children can make a lot of good memories in Fukushima. Even when they go out of the prefecture in the future, they can reminisce about their home with full of wonderful memories. Thank you!”

Many families in Minamisoma City are forced to live apart due to the nuclear accident, as seen in the case of the Yoshida family, and as a result they face immense challenges. A number of participants told us events for families with children are much appreciated and they hope for such events in the future. 

AAR staff preparing fried noodles for 300 people
AAR staff preparing fried noodles for 300 people
1,000 ball konjac sticks
1,000 ball konjac sticks
The Yoshida family enjoying mini-bowling
The Yoshida family enjoying mini-bowling
Balloon playground was particularly popular
Balloon playground was particularly popular
Many participants enjoyed the event
Many participants enjoyed the event
Apr 13, 2015

Disaster Risk Reduction Event in Fukushima

Dr Kyung-Wha Kang from OCHA attended the symposium
Dr Kyung-Wha Kang from OCHA attended the symposium

As a parallel event to the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reductionin Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, AAR Japan held Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Event on March 15th and 16th in Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture. This two-day event included a music concert and DRR Symposium, in which a total of 1,100 people participated.

 

At the concert, a great number of disaster survivors enjoyed folk songs by Japanese folk singers and the performance of a professional impressionist, mimicking sounds of animals.

 

The symposium held on the next day was informative and thought-provoking. Ms. Kyung-Wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), attended the symposium as a guest speaker. Referring to the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011 and its aftermath, she highlighted that “the unique experience of Fukushima offers many lessons for humanitarian crises, not only to improve Japan’s own Disaster Risk Reduction efforts, but also to build a more resilient world.”

 

After the inspiring speech from Dr. Kang, the Soma City Mayor, representatives from local organizations, and physicians working in Soma Region passed on experiences and lessons learned through emergency operations and rehabilitation efforts after the 3.11 Tohoku catastrophe. Panelists also discussed DRR measures to prepare for, mitigate, and better respond to future disasters.

 

Ms. Hideko Igarashi, official storyteller of Soma City Disaster Storyteller Group, was one of the panelists in the symposium and told about her experiences from the disaster. On March 11th, she was working in her guest house near Soma beach when the massive tsunami swept her away. “The tsunami rushed toward us quickly and quietly. The waves dashed against buildings and houses, and increased in its strength. Before I knew it, I was swallowed by the waves,” she recalled. “I could no longer hold onto the hands of my husband and uncle, who were running away with me. I felt fear of death for the very first time in my life”.

 

Unfortunately, Hideko lost her husband and uncle to the tsunami. It was a year later that she decided to become a story-teller, but in the beginning  she had no idea what message to convey to the audience. She sometimes sobbed for the entire session, recalling the day. Today, Hideko has made it her mission to speak about her experiences, while appreciating life and the fact that she survived. She also feels that her husband and uncle are giving her a supportive push.

 

Speaking about the importance being aware of disasters, she stressed that “evacuation is the first and foremost priority when a disaster strikes. We are forgetful beings. We must remember the Great East Japan Earthquake and its lessons, and maintain crisis awareness at all times.”

 

A folk singer and a professional impressionist
A folk singer and a professional impressionist
Disaster survivors enjoyed folk songs
Disaster survivors enjoyed folk songs
Soma City Mayor giving a speech
Soma City Mayor giving a speech
Ms Hideko Igarashi, official storyteller
Ms Hideko Igarashi, official storyteller

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