[ISHINOMAKI CITY, MIYAGI, JAPAN, 14 November 2011]
On the morning of Monday, 14 November, an opening ceremony was held to commemorate the completion of Himawari Preschool in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, where major repairs had been underway.
Himawari Preschool was devastated by a 1.5-meter tsunami wave on 11 March. The 20 children and teachers that were at the building at the time were able to escape to the second floor hall, but since the water did not recede, they were forced to eat the small amount of food, water, and snacks leftover at the school for two days before the Japan Self-Defense Forces arrived to save them. After removing the mud washed into the building by the tsunami, the entire building was sanitized and then classes reopened in a nursery room that had escaped flood damage.
Himawari Preschool is a private school, but the Ishinomaki City Government believed that continuing operations at the preschool would be necessary to properly maintain the welfare of preschool-age children in the city. The Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) provided assistance for a wide range of major repairs, including cleaning and sanitizing approximately 340 square-feet of flooring, retiling floors and walls, and installing new cafeteria facilities.
Moreover, JCU provided new furnishings, play equipment and teaching materials while receiving the advice of Professor Hiroko from the Child Education Department of Isobe of Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University.
Ishinomaki City Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama participated in the preschool’s opening ceremony, where he offered the following remarks: “Our preschools and kindergartens were absolutely devastated in the disaster. Himawari Preschool was no exception with its massive flood damage. However, the cooperation of the Japan Committee for UNICEF has allowed us to make major repairs and for that I am truly thankful. We are tremendously grateful that are children are able to attend class in such a beautiful building. It is our responsibility as adults to create an environment where children can grow up strong. Ishinomaki City will also exert every effort to ensure that urban development in Ishinomaki City meets the needs of its residents.”
Mr. Akira Horai, Director of Himawari Preschool, spoke about the hardships that they had overcome as he reflected on the situation directly after the earthquake: “Looking at the flooding and other damage, there were so many problems that I didn’t even know what to say. There was no money to cover the situation and we had no idea how long it would take. But, nevertheless, we all worked together to start removing the mud. It was a fight against feeling helpless. After the disaster we had more than 100 volunteers help us finish removing the mud. Several days later I received a call from city hall and was told that the Japan Committee for UNICEF was going to provide assistance for assessing the damage. That totally restored my hope. The official decision for assistance was made in July and construction started in late August. What began as just some leftover columns slowly changed, eventually returning to its pre-disaster building form, and the closer it came to being completed the more energetic the children grew.”
Eight months have passed since the disaster. Only 84 of the 100 children that had once attended Himawari Preschool are still with us. Participants at the opening ceremony shared the unifying hope that the new freedom for children to play provided by the building would serve as a source of hope for the future reconstruction of Ishinomaki City.
All photo credits: © Japan Committee for UNICEF