Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief (20th Report)
Child Friendly Spaces: Network of assistance grows in disaster areas

[Tokyo, Japan, 31 March 2011]

The Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) has been working to establish Child Friendly Spaces for children living at shelters in the disaster areas of north-eastern Japan; in previous reports, we presented images of children cheerfully playing with Early Child Development kits and recreation kits. The initiative was started with the objective of providing children with psychological assistance, and with the support of a broad range of people it is expanding to more and more shelters.

The strength of volunteers

© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2011/K. Goto

Miwa Kurumizawa teaches career design at a university and has travelled to the disaster site from Tokyo as a JCU volunteer to provide assistance. “My encouragement comes from the big, bright smiles of children when they open the boxes of toys. It makes me want to help as many children as I can,” commented Ms. Kurumizawa, who has consistently been involved in the establishment of Child Friendly Spaces at multiple shelters around Miyagi Prefecture. Currently, students from universities, high schools and junior high schools around the disaster area serve as volunteers in operating these Child Friendly Spaces.

The voice of volunteers

© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2011/K. Shindo
Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture after the earthquake disaster.

Child Friendly Spaces have been set up at various schools in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, including Kadowaki Junior High School, Watanoha Primary School, Minato Primary School, Aoba Junior High School and Hebita Junior High School. At these spaces, volunteers work hard daily to provide psychological assistance to children of the disaster areas. Some comments received from the volunteers are below.

“I played with the children for about one hour. It went by so fast and the children wanted to keep playing more. I was happy when they told me ‘Make sure to come back tomorrow, too.’ One of the women living at the Kadowaki shelter told me that the children had been scared, just hiding under their blankets. But after UNICEF came, smiles returned to the children’s faces and they started playing again.”

“Looking around the shelter it is easy to tell that when the adults see children losing spirit, they lose spirit themselves. Seeing this has made me want to cheer up everyone staying at the shelter. I hope to grow closer with the children here.”

“I have been around to different shelters, and it makes me happy to see how people are starting to regain their old spirit. Also, I feel great when people ask when I’ll be coming back.”

“I was a little confused about how to play with children at first, but after visiting different shelters I feel like children approach me more now. The longer people continue to live in these shelters, the more difficult it will be to ensure that the children do not grow bored.”

Cooperation with other child assistance organizations

In setting up and operating the Child Friendly Spaces, JCU has been working together with various organizations that have long assisted the activities of UNICEF. These include municipal governments, education committees, schools, JCU prefectural branch offices and other groups from the local disaster areas. In order to provide the maximum level of support possible to children in the disaster areas, JCU is coordinating with local municipal governments to implement cooperation for the children assistance activities of other organizations. We are putting forth every effort to ensure that as many children as possible will be able to quickly return to a healthy and peaceful living environment. We are doing this by utilizing tools such as Early Child Development kits and recreation kits, as well as by extensively sharing expertise possessed by JCU and UNICEF on how to manage Child Friendly Spaces. JCU Executive Director Ken Hayami commented that, “I intend to put our maximum effort into pulling together strengths both from within Japan and overseas to implement assistance for the children in disaster areas.”

On 1 April an additional 100 Early Child Development kits and 100 recreation kits are scheduled to arrive from the UNICEF Supply Division in Copenhagen, Denmark.