[TOKYO, JAPAN, 7 November 2012]
The following are the voices of children who received letters of support from other children around the world through the Tegami Project:
"I was so happy to find out that there are people so far away who think about us."
"It was my first time writing a letter abroad. I hope it arrives soon."
"Thank you for taking the time to write such great letters for Japan, even though your own country faces troubles of its own. I hope that our replies return the same hope and energy. We will always be connected. We love you."
Since the March 2011 disaster many children have been forced to live in completely foreign conditions. One day, however, a box arrived on the doorstep of the Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU), which had been providing assistance to those in need since the 11 March disaster. The box was from Germany and it was filled with letters of support and encouragement for those in the affected areas. The letters told the disaster victims that "even if we seem far apart, we are always together," and "everyone is thinking about you." Some envelopes even included drawings of flowers, blue skies and smiling children. The letters were all written with the objective of restoring smiles to the faces of children impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The Tegami Project delivers messages of encouragement and support written by children in Germany—and around the world—to the children of the Tohoku region. Through the delivery of these letters, the project aims to let Tohoku children know that people around the world are thinking about them. The project is also a way for Tohoku children to connect, by writing replies, to their new friends around the world.
JCU collected more than 2,000 letters via UNICEF country offices in 34 countries and regions. Under the Tegami Project, special classes were held at 33 kindergartens, schools and other locations by representatives of the countries where the letters were from. These classes received a tremendously enthusiastic response from the children, as they exposed the children to stories, languages, ethnic costumes and dances that they have never seen before. A total of 35 volunteers participated as teachers, representing their respective countries and delivering letters to more than 1,700 children. What is more, each child wrote a reply. They wrote about their hobbies, where they live in Japan, and asked questions to learn about their new pen pals. Many children also used giant letters to spell out their words of gratitude and thankfulness. Each of the letters was then translated into English with the help of numerous volunteers before being mailed to their respective destination countries. All letters arrived at their destinations by 5 October. Some schools and kindergartens still keep in touch with the friends made through this project.
It is JCU's hope that these new friendships—built on trust and caring—will contribute to expanding the potential of the children involved in the project.
Tegami Project Website
Please visit the project website for a look at a sample of the letters that have arrived from other countries and the responses written by children in the Tohoku region.
All photo credits: © Japan Committee for UNICEF