Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief (128th report)
“I’ve never done anything like this before!”
Children from Futaba Town, Fukushima escort Japanese and Italian volleyball teams onto the court

[TOKYO, JAPAN, 3 December 2011]

© Photo: Japan Volleyball Association

On Saturday, 3 December, the FIVB World Cup match between Japan and Italy was hosted by the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo. Twenty-four children from Futaba Town, Fukushima Prefecture that have evacuated their town and are living at the former Kisai High School in Kazo City, Saitama Prefecture, were invited to attend the event and escort the players onto the court at the beginning of the match.

The FIVB relays the United Nations’ message of utilizing sports to achieve sustainable development and peacebuilding. On 18 November, at the women’s match held at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, it was announced that a partnership agreement had been concluded between the FIVB and United Nations in order to boost awareness of and work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In response to this, the Japan Volleyball Association (JVA), a FIVB member association, decided to invite children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake to this event. The Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) has worked to provide assistance to children through sports, including hosting the Iwate Prefecture Inter-High School Athletic Competition, and on this occasion JCU joined hands with the Saitama Association for UNICEF to bring children from Futaba Town to the event. Saitama Association for UNICEF currently provides assistance for residents from Futaba Town, Fukushima Prefecture, during their stay at the former Kisai High School.

The children were extremely excited to meet their hero volleyball players. The event hosts had prepared a delicious hot dinner for the children, who have been forced to eat premade set meals for the past several months, but when the players’ bus arrived, they completely forgot about the food and bounced out of their seats, asking, “Can we go out and greet the players? Please!”

© Photo: Japan Volleyball Association

It was 6:15 p.m. and the children were waiting anxiously in the hallway behind the court. Then two teams of volleyball players whose heads almost touched the ceiling made their way to meet the children. The instant they appeared, the children erupted into cheers. The children were so nervous that they were at a loss for words, but right at 6:20 p.m. they took the hands of the 24 players and made their way onto the court as clapping and cheering rang through the gymnasium for the players and their children escorts. The children had been practicing and practicing, and it paid off, as they flawlessly executed their role in making a perfect line in front of the players. After a commemorative photo, they shook hands with the players, thus completing their mission for the day.

One of the child escorts, Yuka Itakura (12), said, “I’ve never done anything like this before! It was so fun. I used to play volleyball, and my dream is to one day be on the national team.” Another child, Soichiro Kasahara (10), excitedly commented, “The players were huge! I want to be just like them when I grow up.” Ryota Otani (11) said only, “I was so nervous,” giving a sigh of relief after the event. Ryoka Ishibashi (10) told us about her future dreams, “I was surprised how tall the Italian players are. I want to go see a match again. I want to be a volleyball player when I grow up.”

After they finished their task for the day, the children took to the stands to watch the match. The children followed the dramatically close game until the end, rooting on the players with big cheers.

Children smile upon completing their job escorting the players.    

All photo credits: © Japan Committee for UNICEF

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