Children
 Japan
Project #9146

childcare-support-at-disaster-stricken-tohoku

by Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA
Vetted
4th Anniversary of the Shopping Arcade
4th Anniversary of the Shopping Arcade

“Redevelopment takes too long.” is the word expressed by Ms. Masato Ito, who leads and helps the redevelopment of “Kirarin Kids (KK)” and Rikuzen-takata City respectively. At the end of March 2017, the present lease of the “Kirarin Kids’ space” in the temporary shop arcade with the Rikuzen-takata City expires, and the renewal of the contract will be with the private sector, instead of the city government. It means a big change to KK in many aspects, since it is now forced to choose either to leave the present place and find an alternative location or to renew a contract with a much higher monthly rent and a monthly payment for the future removal of the present complex. This change will really influence the future of KK, since it needs to have a fairly big play space for children which is not easily available, needless to say about the lack of financial resource to keep the present location. Besides, to find a space in the city center which was completely destroyed in the disaster may take several more years to be completed. KK is facing a really serious difficulty to find a solution.

Despite this painful worry, Ms. Ito is working very hard to promote good and warm parent-children relations and offer many programs and events. So far, the main source of funding has been a subsidy from the city government. But since she is trying to serve the needs of the community, she ends up offering new programs which become additional financial burden. A relief for Ms. Ito is that staffs are highly motivated and well willing to work together to sustain the KK.

Their programs have two effects: One is to support parents to raise children. For example, they offer such programs as bouquet-making classes or meetings to learn how to correct pelvis and overcome after-childbirth effects conducted by a midwife. These programs are quite popular to mothers. The other is to promote human relations and help to improve living in the community. For example, this year for the first time, KK participated in the Challenge Day in Sport. This event was to compete, in terms of the community-based participation time and rate, in a paired city, which was between Rikuzen-takata City and Miyako-town in Fukuoka City this year. KK requested two voluntary mothers’ circles to participate, and successfully raised the motivation of mothers and their participation. Owing to such efforts, Rikuzen-takata City won against Miyako-town. Also, in June, to celebrate the fourth year of the Temporary Arcade in which the KK is in, they took an initiative to organize an anniversary event to re-think about the disaster-prevention practices. As these initiatives show, the KK’s recent activities are to act in areas where nobody challenges and also on issues which add new elements to the existing programs. Several newspaper articles about these challenges appeared (see the picture).

In July, KK will organize a summer festival to enjoy cool evening breeze. It has already become one well-known event which many local people participate and enjoy. Many outside organizations which KK has worked with and student volunteers dispatched by universities will participate. Especially, university student volunteers learn about the disaster and redevelopment and also the joy of volunteering to play with children.

Successes of these events are greatly owing to staffs’ willingness and high motivation to realize their goals. Despite the tightness of helping hands caused by maternity leaves, instead of hiring short-term part-timers, they try to manage by staffs who commit for a long-term. This is partly because people in the community pay special attention to reasons for staff’s job hopping from one job to another. This situation keeps each staff extremely busy all the time. How to sustainably operate an organization is a tormenting issue to Ms. Ito. This issue raised three questions: (1) what should be KK’s staff structure and their work assignments; (2) how to organize programs and events with this limited number of staff and also to expand the operation of KK; and (3) how to hire capable people and train them as staffs. Looking for answers to these questions, Ms. Ito, for the first time, decided to attend a conference for the leaders of childcare centers held in Tokyo. Although she is still extremely busy, she now started thinking about KK’s sustainability or, to say in different words, feeling real pressure to think about the issue.   

In addition to the above conference, Ms. Ito, also for the first time, decided to attend a local network of childcare-related organizations. This network was originally organized by people from outside of Rikuzen-taka City. Although many of these outside organizations left the community, a few remaining ones continued to operate this network. Although Ms. Ito previously did not have any time to be involved in the network, she now hopes to build new movements with people in the network to improve childcare situations in Rikuzen-taka City.

     KK constantly has a firm posture to break away from the present restrictions and looks for new ideas and directions. Through these attempts, Ms. Ito will definitely find solutions to above problems in the near future.

Preparation for KK
Preparation for KK's Cool Summer Evening Event 1
Preparation for Cool Summer Evening Event 2
Preparation for Cool Summer Evening Event 2

Links:

Kirarin Kids and Mothers 1
Kirarin Kids and Mothers 1

Five years have already passed since the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster took place. Three public complexes for those who are in the temporary housing have been completed, and some people are gradually moving to the complexes. Despite so, people are still living in one hundred temporary houses on a high school ground, while high school students are taking athletic classes right next to them. This is partly because many people just cannot afford to move into new complexes. The new stage of redevelopment strangely has not really generated changes in people’s living style so far.

In April when a new fiscal year starts, the Director of Kirarin Kids (KK), Ms. Masako Ito, recognized that the population of children in Rikuzen Takata City has not increased or might have even declined. It may be partly because younger people have not yet coming back to work in the city, since the raising of land level has not yet completed. It is one reason. But there seems to be another reason for KK not being able to increase participants. Due to the Abe Government’s new policy of “Activating All 0.1 Billion Japanese,” more women started working even in Rikuzen Takata, and they are leaving children at nursery schools. In urban areas, the shortage of nursery school is a serious problem. It is not a problem in Rikuzen Takata, though some mothers have to drive a little bit far away to find vacant seats for their children. The lack of problem is a problem for KK, since it is promoting parents-children relations. The change in environments is not working favorable to KK. 

Discussing strategies among KK staffs to cope with this environmental changes, they decided to cover a wider area as well as to improve their program quality. For the first strategy, they decided to include Hirota area where AEON supermarket operates and also the Sun Shine House which was donated as a community space exists for multiple purposes, such as music performances and workshops. It has a very nice space of 240 square meters with a kitchen facility and a hall. KK started having an extended KK program there once a month. However, the key problem is poor management. It is donated by a private foundation, but strangely two organizations manage the facility, making them incapable of deciding quickly. It is quite unfortunate that spaces for community uses remain unused, since they are not quite open and efficient. Though the deterioration of community is really a serious problem in the disaster-stricken area, places to be used for community building remain closed for an open use. This is the type of behavior which KK has been trying to change by requesting improvements in managerial policies. Whenever KK does new things, they function to introduce new ways of thinking and stimulates changes in the area. They are doing the same to the Sun Shine House.

For improving their programs, they now started working with experts in diverse areas. One collaboration is to bring two local food experts designated by the Iwate Prefecture and have cooking events with KK mothers for the purposes of transmitting local traditional food to the future generation, creating opportunities to recognize the existence of valuable local culture, and enhancing their attachment to local culture. The other is collaboration with medical practitioners. Every other month, KK invites midwives and public health nurses, and opens “Health Saloon” for the purpose of raising health awareness and improving health conditions of KK mothers’ families, and consequently improving the health condition of the community. Since people think that the Tohoku disaster-stricken area is not any more the target of disaster support, cost for bringing experts to KK became higher than before. While the KK’s basic operation is covered by a subsidy from the city government, program improvement requires KK’s efforts to raise money. On the one hand, Ms. Ito is really willing to listen to KK mothers and tries to do her best to realize improvements. However, on the other hand, a big question still torments her whether KK can really improve programs under the present financial limitation and without giving additional burden to her staffs. This question remains as a key issue to be solved in a long period of continued struggle for redevelopment of this disaster-stricken area. 

Kirain Kids and Mothers 2
Kirain Kids and Mothers 2

Links:

How Rikuzen Takata City looks now
How Rikuzen Takata City looks now

In January, the Rikuzen Takata City solicited public comments from residents to develop a “General Health Promotion Plan,” consisted of people’s health improvement, mother-children health improvement, and dietary education. Ms. Masako Ito, representing Kirain Kids (KK), is thinking about submitting proposals collected from mothers in KK, especially because she became ever more aware of needs for community development to have proper environments for childrearing. Learning from her experiences in operating KK, she became ever more participative to community development. She believes, “Childrearing is influenced by diverse conditions in environments, exposed to which, children come to acquire social nature and willingness to contribute to society. KK through its activities is engaging in creating a place to cultivate sociality to mothers and children. A small networks of children, if widely spread, may be able to create waves of activities in communities. In Rikuzen Takata, its community was destroyed, and what has been in existence for a long time disappeared. Only thing left was a disserted brown scenery (see the first picture). And only local people living in this condition have to struggle to rebuild a new scenery, though it may take a long time. If KK is working hard to contribute to community building, some local people may start thinking to visit KK, help its activities, and contribute to community building. KK is now acknowledged for its contributions to community building and empowering local people.

One clear evidence of the acknowledgement is three newspaper articles written in the past three months. One article reported about her speech at a conference organized by the National Childrearing Place Association, talking about supports for childrearing at disaster or post-disaster situations and also disaster prevention at ordinary situations (see the article in the picture).

In the conference, she emphasized the importance of creating an environment for people to engage in dialogue and linking such activities to governments, since she herself experienced valuable supports from individuals and human networks in the disaster. But she also recognized at the conference that the nature of disaster and needed supports differ drastically between Fukushima where a nuclear power plant incident generated a disaster and small communities with the disaster like Rikuzen Takata where the number of those who engage in community building actively is still limited while people tend to leave to neighboring cities. It is quite difficult to put all these different disaster-related problems under one word, “disaster-stricken places.” She became aware at the conference that different approaches to different disaster situations should be discussed and practiced, while we tend to talk under one word.

Another indication of Ms. Ito’s contributions to community development came in November 2015. The Rikuzen Takata City Government restarted “Gathering for Improving Health” for the first time after the disaster. It was for promoting people’s health-improvement activities, but in this first restart, the City Government awarded people and organizations whose activities contributed to improve people’s health. Still as high as 60 percent of people remain in the temporary housing, and the residents’ health still remains as a serious problem. KK received a Welfare Award for its contribution to improving the health of mothers and children.

In December, KK organized the third meeting with the Mayer to discuss about childrearing. In the past, it involved mothers, while this time it was organized for fathers to discuss about “How to Build a City Easy to Raise Children” and “a City where Fathers Actively Participate in Childrearing.” Some participants, including the Mayor himself who lost his wife in the disaster, are from the father-children family. Although only ten fathers participated, they all felt that the meeting was quite worthwhile. If attendants increase in the future, this meeting may make this city known as “the First City where Fathers Actively Participate in Childrearing” in this area.   

On the one hand, such exposures to mass media is helping KK to increase local people’s awareness about its activities. On the other hand, KK makes extra efforts to go to places where children’s health check is conducted by the Health Office, deliver fliers, and even obtain a permission of the Health Office to verbally explain their activities.

As a New Year resolution of this year, Ms. Ito commits to turn KK to a place of community contributions. Although five years will soon pass since the disaster, nothing has been decided about the future of the temporary shop arcade where KK is presently in. Will there be a permanent facility established by the City Government or does KK have to find a new place to operate? One thing certain is that KK is becoming an important and indispensable actor in community redevelopment in this area.

New Paper Report on Ms. Ito
New Paper Report on Ms. Ito's Presentation
Kirarin Kids in a Snowy Day
Kirarin Kids in a Snowy Day

Links:

Hey, let
Hey, let's have a fun!!

     The Halloween Party is now spreading all over Japan, even in Tohoku area, and unexceptionally the Kirarin Kids (KK) also offered the party on October 29, 2015. Twelve pairs of parents and children participated in the party, in which all toddlers wore hand-made pumpkin-looking costumes. Children just loved this event. KK was very happy that they could offer this enjoyable event to young mothers in Rikuzen Takata as the Halloween Parties are organized in many other cities.

     However, what is unique about KK is that they offered hand-made cookies with their own recipes, since they believe that dietary education with hand-made food signifies one of their important missions to transmit from old generations to new ones warm and heart-filled parents-children relations found in their tradition. Every season, they organize a session for hand-made modern as well as traditional food. Their recipe for the Halloween Party was donuts made with brown seaweeds, scorn made out of rice flour which causes less allergy reaction among children, and pumpkin soup. A dietician explained their menu. One mother with a baby was really happy to learn the recipe, since she has not given any commercial cookie to her baby and will try to make it at home.    

     Despite the fact that such recipe is available in internet, important is offering an opportunity for mothers to actually experience to eat hand-made food, know its ingredient and nourishment to children, and learn how to make it. Behind such activities, there is a special reason for KK to offer dietary education with home-made cooking. It is because the disaster changed ways people live, forcing each family to live in a very small space in a temporary housing, making it difficult to mingle even with family members, and drastically reducing opportunities to get together with older and younger generations. The simplified funeral customs due to a large number of diseased people also changed the role of traditional food and community relations. Besides, the core of community relations in this area was to exchange fresh and delicious food among people, which became impossible due to dispersed residences and the reduce amount of catches. Since KK believes that the disaster changed local people’s habit of eating and destroyed community relations, it hopes to contribute to rebuilding community relations by promoting hand-made food and offering dietary education of both modern and traditional food, especially the latter to young mothers.   

     Several families attended KK’s Halloween Party for the first time. They decided to come to the Party, simply because they participated in the KK-organized children’s athletic meeting in which even a zero-year old baby could participate. As many as fifty families participated in the athletic meeting, which was the first event ever organized in the city since the disaster. Parents and children from neighborhood communities also participated. Consequently, KK became famous for offering events, responding to the needs of the community, and developing ways to solicit parents and children to participate in community activities.

     However, as it has been reported in the past to the GlobalGiving, despite that four years have passed out of five year guarantee to remain in this temporary shopping arcade, has evolved no clear picture where KK’s future location will be. They do not know whether they can even extend their stay in the present place, since negotiation between three land owners and the city government does not seem to be working out well. Several offers to move into a supermarket or a public housing area exist, but they do not have enough revenue to manage their activities in those places. They also think that they would like to apply to cloud funding. But people are not any more paying attention to the disaster area. Many people in a similar situation, including KK, really feel uncertain about their future.

     A national meeting for children-rearing support organizations will be held in November this year in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, for two days. Among many sessions, there will be one session for Tohoku-based organizations, including KK, which will discuss about support to disaster-stricken families in Tohoku. In October, the entry was closed, disappointedly only to find the lowest number of participants in the session in comparison to others. It clearly suggests that people are now less interested in problems in the disaster-stricken area.

     Given the situation stated above, despite clicking time bomb, no vision has been developed, simply aggravating KK’s anxiety and uncertainty. Clearly, no end is yet foreseen about redevelopment out of the disaster.

Hey, amn
Hey, amn't I scary?
Children have a fun with mothers
Children have a fun with mothers

Links:

Nobody on Saturday
Nobody on Saturday

Kirarin Kids (KK) is feeling much more responsibilities for their roles in building a community with strong bondage between children and parents in Rikuzen Takata, especially because the declining number of children in the community is becoming quite conspicuous. KK is doing their best to make their community attractive to young parents. It has been offering many programs, such as: (1) Kirarin Kids; (2) Kirarin Egg and Baby; (3) Kirarin Mama; (4) Kirarin Papa; (5) Kirarin Café; (6) Kirarin Miniature Farming; and (7) Kirarin Refresh. Besides, KK also provides highly valuable additional services, such as the Children’s Health Saloon in cooperation with the HANDS, Play Cars brought by the UNICEF and the Toy Maker Association, cooking lectures, traditional food cooking, lectures on children’s nourishment, counselling on life with a small fee charged, a puppet show, a party with Santa Clause, Christmas gardening, Nobody’s Perfect sessions, playing at the Ashinaga Rainbow House once a month, etc.

KK now started a health food program for mothers, which will also help to make emergency food and baby foods. With regard to Kirarin Papa sessions, it started attracting a large number of fathers and children. In the first session, it had only ten couples. Then the number grew to 15 in the second session and to 20 in the third session. As a whole, this program involved about 130 people. KK also had a Tanabata Festival in July, attracting about 200 attendants. Other shops cooperated to offer quite many attractions, such as bon dance, fireworks, games, etc. This evet became famous enough to attract people from neighboring cities of Ofunato and Kesennuma. KK just recently visited the newly established fire station, and will be organizing an athletic meeting.

All are working well, and people are well responding to these events. Despite such successes, KK is facing deadlocks, incapable of finding a solution to its future. The best option it would like to have is to have enough fund to purchase a piece of land and build its place in a newly rebuilt land along the coast. Since KK did not own a piece of land before the disaster, it is not capable of receiving governmental subsidies. Naturally, they hardly have savings. If the previous land owner will build a facility which KK can borrow, it will be its second best option, since KK will attract people who will gather for shopping on the coastal side. Any sign of this option seems to exist.  The third option is to organize a cooperative to borrow a facility which KK uses presently. A half of present tenants will move out, but KK is hoping to have enough number of the present tenants to remain, so that they can request the city government not to remove one building out of the present two buildings. Unfortunately, since everybody is still looking for an alternative, no action has been taken. But one thing they are certain is that this location will not be attractive at all to bring their clients. Does KK have enough time to operate without making any decision? Time bomb is ticking. However, KK also thinks that the last option is simply to borrow a space at a newly established quite attractive community center. It is rather hesitant to do so, since it loses its permanent location. At least, they have the last option they can choose unwillingly. However, efforts should be made for a better option before the time bomb explodes.

Elevated Land
Elevated Land

Links:

 

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Organization Information

Ippan Shadan Hojin DSIA

Location: Tokyo - Japan
Website: http:/​/​dsia.or.jp
Project Leader:
Yoshitaka Okada
Tokyo, Japan

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