Feb 10, 2020

Finally Settled, Thanks to Your Warm Supports

Rikuzen Takada Amway House, Town's Veranda
Rikuzen Takada Amway House, Town's Veranda

Kirarin Kids (KK) in Rikuzen Takada just reached the final stage of the post-disaster transition caused by the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, moving to their final destination, “Rikuzen Takada Amway House, Town’s Veranda (Picture 1)”, built by the Amway Japan Foundation, designed by Kengo Kuma who designed the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. The building was opened on January 26 (Sunday), 2020 (Picture 2), and KK moved in on January 31 (Friday) (Picture 3). An increasing number of children and parents are vising the new place lightened up by beautiful sunshine (Pictures 4 and 5). After a long period of struggles and patience, KK finally reached the new stage, though the struggles continue. The Director of KK was so moved and pleased with the outcome that she wants to express her appreciation and how valuable and meaningful your supports have been to her. It was your kind concern and support to KK which enabled her to go through the extremely difficult period after the disaster of losing her husband, workplace, and hometown. The DSIA has been supporting KK from the first year of the 2011 Disaster. Given her letter of appreciation, it judged best to simply translate her letter of appreciation to you, rather than writing a report. So, below is the letter from her, expressing her deep appreciation.

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Dear Supports of Kirarin Kids,

Thank you very much for your understanding and kind support to Kirarin Kids. The Director and staffs would like to express our deep appreciation to your support.

Almost nine years have passed since the disaster. Amid many disasters taking place all over the world, we really feel your continuous and warm support highly valuable, and deeply appreciate it. Among DSIA support activities whose funding was raised through GlobalGiving, we learned that we received the biggest donations. Your support really gave future and dream to disaster-stricken children and even to us. I would also like to express our appreciation to DSIA for visiting us, located in a quite distant away from Tokyo, to write reports every three months. But more than reporting about us, we are moved to the fact that DSIA continued to support and encouraged us for such a long period of time.

We lost many things at the Disaster, frequently pressuring us to give up everything. But it was witnessing and knowing children’s needs which pushed us to rebuild a place where parents and children can come and enjoy together. We did not give up simply because we continued to feel your warm heart and support. After the disaster, we moved four times, and faced a lot of difficulties. But every time we face problems, many people came to support us, and we could continue our operation. We are extremely glad that we did not give up. But behind our struggles, your warm heart and support continued to push us forward. Thanks to you, we could move to a new beautiful building, made out of local naturally-warm wood, making use of traditional wooden-construction technique of Kesen Carpenters, whose technical development and tradition started from this area, going back to the 1600s.

We are now freshly committed to continue our activities, seeing things from the eyes of children and parents, filling our place with smiles, and providing an open and easy place for everybody to stop by any time. We just hope that you do not forget that your warmness have been alive with us continuously in our heart. The same sunshine we all receive wherever we are will always freshly remind us your warmth.

Thank you very much for your continuous and warm-hearted support.

Sincerely yours,

The Director of Kirarin Kids

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Amway House Opening Ceremony
Amway House Opening Ceremony
Kirarib Kids Entrance
Kirarib Kids Entrance
Children and Parents Playing
Children and Parents Playing
Playing Alone
Playing Alone

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Nov 14, 2019

Finally Settling, but More Worries

Amway House under Construction 1
Amway House under Construction 1

In contrast to the previous visit in early August when weather was still hot and streets were filled with the mood of summer festivals, this visit in early November is chilly in the early morning and the late evening. Leaves in the mountain started coloring nicely. Now, winter is felt just at the corner.

As usual, Kirarin Kids (KK) offered diverse programs in three months from the previous visit. One example of big events is “The Second Family Festival 2019”, held in “Dream Arena Takata” which is built for community interactions, having a swimming pool and a basketball court, all an in-door type. There were more than 550 visitors from close-by communities. Children enjoyed carrying artistic balloons as well as playing a sword fight with balloon swords. It was really a fun day for children.

Another event held on November 5 (Tues.) was “Kirarin Athletic Meeting”. Eight pairs of parents and children participated, and enjoyed exercising and talking to Takatano Yumechan, a city’s official staffed doll. Its visit to the even especially excited children and made it quite memorable.

The day for the final move for KK from a temporary facility to a permanent one is coming close. December 18 will be the Framework Raising Ceremony, and KK hopes to start their activities in January 2020. Finally, after eight years of loaming around from a temporary facility to another temporary one and to another one. KK can finally settle down and concentrate on their activities.

However, this does not mean that its unstable situation ends. But rather it is a start of new unstable one.

KK will move into Amway House, located right next to Rikuzen Takata Station on a land-raised area. Despite its name, neither railway nor a station is found. It is simply a small-size bus terminal operated by JR. Because of this location, KK is now worrying whether children rush out to streets. It is now preparing for a set of rules for safety. An additional worry KK just found recently is that there is still a piece of land behind the House connected with a stairway, but not yet raised and even uninformed when to be completed.

KK has been operated, up till now, by soliciting the participation of staffs and allocating works to match their merits. But, given the fresh start of their activities, KK is thinking of developing a firmer organizational structure centered around three founding members. In comparison to the post-disaster period, staffs start having some extra scope to accept types of activities which they have been rejecting to get involved. But staffs still have their own post-disaster situations. One just built a house to move in after eight years. They all feel that they have come only half a way. Despite so, KK is coming to the point that they are reaching a new and final stage of its redevelopment, requiring long-term visions, a firmer organizational structure, and well-organized operations.

Actually KK is now facing a stronger sense of pressure and responsibility than before, since Amway House will be maintained by Amway for the first ten year, but after that period, KK has to take care of all maintenance costs by itself. It felt needs to generate more earning and even to save money for future unexpected expenditures. Hence, it is presently exploring diverse possibilities for stabilizing financial resources, such as introducing a monthly support system as well as an on-line donation system.

While KK staffs are extremely busy to organize events in November and coming Christmas Party in December, they also have to prepare for the final move coming soon. But amid busy schedule, everybody is haunted by this difficult issue of long-term sustainability.

Amway House under Construction 2
Amway House under Construction 2
An Ocean-Side View from Amway House
An Ocean-Side View from Amway House

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Aug 19, 2019

Preparing for Future Activities at the City Center

Picture 1 Moving Summer Festival
Picture 1 Moving Summer Festival

In Rikuzentakata City, two Summer Festivals (Tanabata Festival) are usually held every year on August 7 in Takatacho and Kesencho separately, two towns divided by Kesen River. These towns suffered from a large number of losses in the East-Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster. Takatacho, where Kirarin Kids (KK) has been in operation even before the disaster, holds “Moving Summer Festival (Picture 1)”. The town is divided into about ten areas, each of which organizes a group and spends about three months to build a beautifully decorated festival-float every year. People pull floats and walk through their areas. But when one float meets another one, they swing floats back and forth with loud and rapid drumming, whistling and bell-ringing. This festival has the history of more than several hundred years. To maintain this tradition, people struggle to continue the festival by changing the routes due to obstacles on the road created by redevelopment and land-raising operations. Many people participate to dedicate the festival to the victims of the Disaster as well as mutually and spiritually support redevelopment efforts.

KK obtained a grant in 2019, named “Kirarin Disaster Prevention”, from a Sumitomo Corporation program, called “Follow-up Program of Redevelopment from the East Japan Disaster”. The goal of “Kirarin Disaster Prevention” is to raise parents’ and residents’ awareness about disaster by re-informing experiences in the East-Japan Disaster. The meeting is held every month. The theme of June Meeting was on water. Eight years after the Disaster, residents forgot about their experiences of drinking water shortage, while many new residents who came to live in the city recently do not know about the symptoms of dehydration by the difference of age. The key issue is how to prevent dehydration while preserving drinking water. It is quite a difficult, but very important, issue at a disaster situation. Another issue covered then was about disaster prevention in the case of torrential rain.

As a part of the program, KK at its “Kirarin Summer Festival” cooked miso-soup with pork and vegetables for 100 people as an exercise of serving food at a disaster situation. Up till last year, July “Kirarin Summer Festival (Kirarin Kids Summer Evening Festival) at the previous temporary arcade used to offer fireworks and thin-wheat-noodle floated down with cold water in a half-cut water shoot. However, this year it was held from 11 am to 2 pm on Saturday at “Rikuzen Takata City Common” located right next to “Abasse Takata”, which is a major commercial facility in the city. KK will soon move into an area close to these facilities (Picture 2). Because of this locational change, KK had to give up several well-reputed attractions. But by offering free lunch and bubble-blowing play, it succeeded in attracting many residents enjoying shopping and parents coming after they picked up their children at daycare centers. The play was so popular that KK had to go to buy additional bottles of soap. KK hopes to increase visitors to its parents-children care facility. However, it had three regrets. One was whether many participants really paid attention to the goal of “Kirarin Disaster Prevention” which was explained in fliers distributed to them. It seems that many might have misunderstood the soup as just free offering. Another was that KK had to pay extreme care about participants’ safety due to high traffic in and out from Abasse Takata. Safety of children was really a serious issue. And the other was that the festival was held very close to a basketball court, making it difficult for high school students to play basketball. Since this is the first time to organize the festival in the area, KK learned a lot and will improve the next year.

On July 25, KK held “Children’s Health Salon” by inviting a pediatrician from Takata Hospital. This event was the 12th one held since the Disaster, including events previously organized by a different NPO. Five sets of parents and children participated and asked a lot of questions, making two-hour session too short.

July was an extremely busy month for KK. Every month, it goes to three different locations to open their activities to people living in remote areas. Then, children went to crop potatoes planted in Spring and came to organize “Potato Cooking Event”. They also organized candle making, health salon, dietry education for children, etc. Some of such activities were brought in by outside organizations. KK feels that outside organizations come to propose these activities, since it is much more flexible to operate with than the city or other public organizations. But such events are also considered beneficial for KK to increase new participants or attract more active participation of present members.

KK’s activities are very important, especially for Rikuzen Takata City to become a childrearing-friendly community. In the past, the extended family system, having grandparents and other relatives living together or close by, supported childrearing by providing support and transmitting necessary knowledge. But presently, due to the nuclear family system, some mothers feel isolated, not knowing anybody in the community, receiving vital information about childrearing, having any opportunity talk about their childrearing problems, etc. KK provides vital place for parents and children to come together and enjoy, not like a daycare center where staffs simply take care of children while parents are away. Mothers can freely and openly talk about their worries and problems about their children or returning back to their work. They even consult KK’s staff about diverse issues. KK is really becoming a valuable place where parents with children feel safe, relaxed, and enjoyable (Picture 3).

However, since mothers return back to their work much earlier than before, it is also true that the number of KK’s members is declining. Mothers sometimes shift from KK to a daycare center to drop their one-year-old children behind. This trend is not reversible. Despite so, the roles and the high quality of services KK offers to parents are unique and valuable. To further enhance their valuable contributions to parents in Rikuzen Takata City, KK needs to make extra efforts to increase its new members.

Picture 2 Location where Kirarin Kids Moves in
Picture 2 Location where Kirarin Kids Moves in
Picture 3 A Day at Kirarin Kids
Picture 3 A Day at Kirarin Kids

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