Summertime is always a great opportunity to provide our Tohoku children's homes with some old-fashioned summer activity fun--offering relief from the school year and also from their distressed communities. Only 17 months post 3/11, children's homes are feeling stronger and spirits are improving every day. This improvement is certainly attributed to special ongoing support programs that are offered to our netowrk of homes--thanks, in large part, to our GlobalGiving donor community. Fall has now arrived in the Tohoku region, but the memories created these past few months still remain strong in the children's minds. Home staff are especially grateful for the support their children have been receiving... it fills all of their hearts to know there is a large community (near and far) helping them in their healing process. Please continue reading on to find a snapshot of several summer 2012 support programs which took place at various Tohoku locations, with an additional profile on a fall program kicking off this month...
Summer BBQ/Outdoor Sports Festival--Fukushima Prefecture
17 English teachers, 15 staff members and 43 children took part in this special outing held at a Fukushima prefecture children's home. Volunteers arrived in the morning, first prepping all of the BBQ meats and veggies, while giving the kids a chance to help out and interact with foreigners. Many of these volunteers have become "regular" visitors at the home which creates a comfortable rapport with the children and provides new experiences for them to open up to adults.
Perfect weather helped ensure plenty of outdoor playtime and since the home had an upcoming dodgeball and softball tournament, the volunteers helped the kids to practice. After working up a good sweat, a water balloon fight ensued and volunteers put out a giant tarp coated with dish soap, creating a 'slip n slide' for kids to enjoy.
Something as simple and easy as a BBQ feast and outdoor sports made for a lot of laughter and high spirits at the home that day.
English Adventure Camp--All Tohoku
This is the second summer several Tohoku homes had an opportunity to participate in a five-day, four-night summer camp outing. The camp provides experiences in nature, outdoor fun activities, and team building skills--all blended in with some English learning in a fun environment!
Held at the National Hanayama Youth's Nature home in Miyagi prefecture, kids had the opportunity to interact with international staff members, all the while practicing their English. Many kids do not have an opportunity to speak English on a regular basis, so it was a great experience for them to do so in a relaxed and fun environment. It was also the first time many kids had been away from the home for as long as five days!
Kids enjoyed and experienced a variety of activities. 'Green Adventure' was a favorite among some campers--where kids were presented questions about the forest and had to search for answers by observing the forest! Climbing was another activity providing children with a chance to overcome a challenge. They climbed onto high places, walked along wooden logs, and climbed up poles. And everyone seemed to get such a kick out of 'stream climbing' - where they walked up and down stream, jumped in and out of the water, and watched one of the camp counsellors climb up a waterfall structure! Kids also experienced some basic "mountaineering" skills--learning how to use a compass to navigate their hike and even participated in a nighttime hike where many fireflies were spotted. Star gazing, campfires, and dips in the onsen rounded out an amazing summer camp adventure for many children.
Mosquito Screens Purchase--Iwate Prefecture
One home in Iwate prefecture required 5 mosquito screens for all of their home's doors and entryways. As they are currently living in a pre-fabricated facility (while their home is under a planned and necessary reconstruction), it was much appreciated that they could easily open their doorways this summer without being bothered by pesky mosquitos.
Exam Cram Tutoring Program--Iwate Prefecture
Beginning this month, a home in Iwate prefecture will begin a five month 'Exam Cram' program for many of their children. Ranging in age from 9-15 years old, these kids will get focused academic tutoring support at a local Exam Cram facility. The home's educational environment has been struggling due to having only one paid tutor for the entire home. Further, their immediate area has no university currently open due to the tsunami disaster and local buses are scarce (with only a few services each day), making it difficult for any university students to consistently make the trek to the home from another town. Therefore, having the funds to put towards sending their children to the academic facility will provide these kids with distinct opportunities to improve their academic skils and situation.
On May 8 and 9, Living Dreams visited La Salle Home (Sendai, Miyagi), Asahigaoka Gakuen (Kesennuma, Miyagi) and Ichinoseki Fujinosono (Ichinoseki, Iwate). Since Mari Kuraishi of GlobalGiving has already written a report on our visit to La Salle Home in April, I will share the circumstances of the other two homes.
The visit to Asahigaoka Gakuen (not the home itself) was quite shocking, to be honest. It is located up on the hill which oversees the main part of Kesennuma, which is a fishers’ town right on the Pacific. On our way to Asahigaoka Gakuen from the bus stop, we asked the taxi driver to take us to the harbor area where the tsunami hit. It did not take us much time to be exposed to the brutal scene which we had seen on the news almost every day.
The images from the media were right. Almost all the buildings were gone, and we could only see several buildings that were barely standing, showing the painful scars from the tsunami. Even a huge fishing boat (about 20 meters long) was on the ground, showing rusts on its body, telling us how much time has passed since that day. It was difficult for us to hold our tears seeing such scenes. One small hope that we found there was a tiny flower garden, which was probably made by the owner of the house which was totally swept away by the tsunami.
To our great relief, no child of Asahigaoka Gakuen was hurt by the earthquake or tsunami, for they were already up on the hill where the home is located, when the tsunami occurred. But these children live their everyday liveslooking at this disastrous and empty scene that the tsunami has left behind. There is no question that thesechildren need some form of psychological care for years to come.
Another home we visited, Ichinoseki Fujinosono, was damaged by the earthquake, to the level that they had to start rebuilding the facility right away. Their biggest concern is whether they can collect enough donations to cover the construction cost, which is JPY 800 million in total. Beside this gigantic goal, they also face more immediate challenges; whether they can get by, while their building is under construction, in prefabricated houses, in which living condition is not of best quality both in summer and winter. And in order to improve the quality of their life for the time being, we are planning to provide them with such needs like mosquito screens for their windows, bamboo blind (“yoshizu” in Japanese), cost for fuel in winter, etc.
While they live under such stressful environment, Living Dreams are planning to take out the children of AsahigaokaGakuen and Ichinoseki Fujinosono to our English Adventure Summer Camp which will be held in Hanayama, Miyagi, thanks to donation from organizations like GlobalGiving. At the same time, we are proceeding our preparation for the Christmas Wish program this year, under which each child will receive the exact present that he/she wishes, again thanks to donation from organization like GlobalGiving.
Up on a little hill in Sendai is the LaSalle Home for Children, led by Brother Rodrigo Trevino. This is where school supplies and other materials from Living Dreams were sent in the past months. The home houses 80 children ages 2-18--with a preponderance of boys because until 1997 the home was a boys' home--but there are about a dozen girls there now too, including one of the girls orphaned by the tsunami last year.
The older children live in 3-4 bedroom apartments inside the home each with a den mother, each group with a range of ages, each with its own bathroom and kitchen. We happened to be at the home on the first Monday of April, when the kids about to enter first grade get to move from the big dorm rooms that house the little ones to one of these family style apartments--as we found out when we were introduced to six-year old Luke. His first announcement to us was that he was all packed and ready to go--up to join the older boys in an apartment upstairs.
The home is lovely, with a gym large enough for volleyball and school plays, and a baseball and soccer field out back. The gym came in handy when the kids and staff took refuge there while the electricity and water were out in Sendai for over a week (the gym has a separate heating system fueled by kerosene tanks).
Over 40% of the kids are there because they have been taken away from abusive situations at home--an alarming statistic considering that Japan only signed on to the UN declaration of the rights of the child in 1994--which is when child abuse became an acceptable reason for the state to put the kids in fostercare. But the love and thoughtfulness with which Brother Travinjo and his staff interacted with the kids and designed the structure of the home could go a long way to comfort them.
January 2012 Field Report
Thanks to the generosity of so many donors around the world, December 2011 and early January 2012 delivered festive holiday cheer and new outdoor learning adventures to many kids living in children's homes across Tohoku...
Christmas Wish Program
During the month of December, Living Dreams worked closely with 7 children's homes located in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures to collect each child's "wished-for" gift choice and arrange for a special party at their home to celebrate the holiday season. Living Dreams ordered 'wished-for' presents for every child, or in some instances, older children requested "otoshidama" (special envelopes with cash) for something they were saving money to buy. Each child's gift was around the ¥5,000 range. Considering that most of these kids rarely receive more than 1 gift a year (typically on birthdays), this was a welcomed event by the home staff and children. Less about the material gift (although truly enjoyed!), each home felt a true sense of appreciation from the community (local and global) with the heartfelt gestures and efforts of so many people wanting to help Tohoku children's homes celebrate the holiday season. 374 children enjoyed a gift of their choice to open, along with a special feast of treats they don't normally get to eat (pizza, fried chicken), along with some traditional Japanese foods and sweets. The occasion gave each home a chance to come together and enjoy the holiday season in uplifting fashion.
English Adventure Snow Camp
During the first week of January 2012, 33 kids from two children's homes in Tohoku enjoyed a 4-day overnight "snow camp" adventure at a beautiful campsite located in the region. From building snowmen, igloos and campfires to skiing and snowshoeing, kids had a chance to play in the snow while working in team units, guided by experienced camp counselors. In just four days, children went from being withdrawn and uncommunicative to more animated and open to new experiences! Despite the very challenging activity of igloo-building several kids stuck with it and were incredibly proud of their accomplishments. Other children simply soaked up the beautiful snowy surroundings as they trekked their way through the woods on a snowshoe hike. And skiing ranked as the favorite activity among most of the kids! To top off their snowy experiences, all of these activities were sprinkled with a few English lessons as well...
The weeks following their return back home, both children and accompanying home staff realized they had discovered new ways to better communicate and interact with one another... further, the brief exposure to new experiences and team-building activities helped boost children's confidence and perspectives. This camp was a tremendously positive way to kick off the New Year!
October 2011 Field Report
Over the past 3 months, our organization has continued to develop highly personal relationships with 19 homes across Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. Home staff have opened up to our team, sharing their current challenges, wishes and needs for the children under their care.
Our initial phase of delivering "tier one" needs to homes (clothing, emergency flashlights, lunch boxes, sports gear, playground equipment, TVs, Wii players, PCs, digital cameras, camping gear, bikes, etc.) is now winding down so that we can focus on more continual, therapeutic and enriching programs for these children's homes. As our relationships with these homes continue to grow, we are able to better understand their home environments and offer beneficial programs across the categories of Learning, Arts, Sports and Technology. The below is a summary of what programs we are planning to execute over the next few months. In addition to the summary of plans below, we've included approved-for-use photos from our August Music Therapy workshop retreat.
'We Have a Dream" art workshops- developed and led by Rotary World Peace Fellow 2010-2012, A.K.Reichert; using the 'We Have a Dream' pedagogigal guidelines, these weekend workshops will encourage kids to visualize and express their dreams in a creative format.
Christmas Wish program- many homes in Tohoku have lost funding for their regular Christmas holiday celebrations so we will execute the Christmas Wish program for upwards of 200 children this Christmas season; each child will receive one "wished for" gift valued around ¥5,000 each.
English Adventure snow camp- this camp provides children a chance to snowshoe and build igloos, all while practicing some English! Further, it gives kids a chance to build teamwork skills and enjoy 4 days of outdoor fun. 40-50 kids will have a chance to experience this camp in Miyagi prefecture.
In additon to the above, another "tier one" request will be met for a home in Miyagi with the delivery of 5 digital TVs and 10 pairs of soccer cleats.
We look forward to brightening up the lives of kids through a variety of activities, including those listed above...
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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
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