March 11. The children were pillars of strength for their community.
On the day of Japan Great East Earthquake and Tsunami,as chilren from Tsutsujigaoka Primary School, Miyagi Prefecture faced the disastrous scene, children wondered, “what can we contribute to those who have suffered?” they then began their volunteer activities.
What was the reasons behind their proactive actions? We interviewed Mr. Kazuo Kuno, Principal of Tsutsujigaoka Primary School in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture.
It was cold on the day of March 11, 2011. After the “thank you party” for the people in the area who were helpful during the year and while the school children were preparing to leave school, the big earthquake hit at 14:46. School desks rocked violently from side to side and mobile phones and textbooks were scattered on the classroom floor. People could not stay standing without holding on to something at that time. Principal tried to deliver a message through the school’s public announcement system when the shaking stopped for a moment but the electricity was out. Principal gave instructions to take refuge in the school playground through the broadcasting equipment for emergencies. Fortunately, everyone was safe.
Tsutsujigaoka Primary School is located in Miyaginoku, Sendai near JR Sendai Station. Many people came from Sendai Station and gathered at the school to seek refuge in fear of the station collapsing. The school gymnasium immediately became full of the unexpected large number of refugees. The school staff was busily engaged in supplying goods, food, and electric generators.
The school children, on their own initiative, took part in aiding in the support of the suffering people at the shelter.
The school took provisional steps of school closure after March 11. However, the school children quickly began helping victims by March 15. With the school children who belong to the JRC committee at the core, they performed volunteer work at the shelter with adults in the area of Miyaginoku.
“Could we try to help by working at the shelters? the children asked me, on their own initiative, without any kind of instructions from others,” describes Mr. Kazuo Kuno, the principal of Tsutsujigaoka Primary School at that time. The children voluntarily started distributing boiled rice to the earthquake victims at the school gymnasium shelter. They looked very proud wearing aprons with the Red Cross mark which were borrowed from adult members of a JRC service group.
“Being busy coping with immediate problems to solve, we adults had a lot on our plates. The children, however, considered seriously “what they could achieve” much more than we could,” Mr. Kuno expresses his thoughts reflectively.
Tsutsujigaoka Primary School has been affiliated with the JRC since 1924. With the JRC committee composed of the school children as the core, they have developed campaign activities such as one-yen-coin fund raising, collecting plastic bottle caps and issuing The JRC Newspaper once a month etc. in their daily activities. Lower grade students admire the active upper grade students who are JRC committee members. Mr Kuno believes they have proceeded slowly but steadily in their usual JRC activities so far. Those activities led the children to take the initiative when facing the big earthquake.
Mr. Kuno says, “JRC goals of “to be aware, to consider then to put into practice” were finally connected to their voluntary demonstration facing the emergency this time. The students of Tsutsujigaoka “became aware that there were people with difficulties and considered what they could achieve now. They successfully realized the power which they have cultivated so far because of the Japan Great East Earthquake and Tsunami.
People hope that they will make the primary school the most powerful point to prevent disasters, uniting the primary school and the surrounding area
Tsutsujigaoka Primary School had developed activities which will widely be concerned with people in the area around the school before this recent disaster. The school children and school staff invite aged people living in the area to exchange information between the children and the aged as a “Lively Exchange Salon” program in cooperation with the social welfare council in the district. Though it is only with the goal of making friends, they get together to have school lunches, shake each other’s hands and so on. Perhaps because the school children experienced such a lucky chance to make friends with the aged people they cultivated “Considering Others” which was put into practice even under the emergent disastrous circumstances this time.
“Grandfathers, Grandmothers, I wonder if they are fine?” How much more would the area be enriched by each child merely sympathizing with those aged people.
“The school children were cool-headed when facing the earthquake disaster at that time and the feeling that they desired to be helpful to those suffering was a strong energy to make them move actively. All-round teaching at school, of course, was first needed to cultivate the children’s growth until now. Furthermore, not only school teachers but also adults in the area or at home were also needed to try “Giving the children assurance.” Specifically, “Praising and Recognizing” would be desired. It is important that those children would believe firmly “Practicing a right thing would be welcomed” through those experiences.”
JRC activities conducted by Tsutsujigaoka Primary School have been deepened since the big earthquake in the Northeastern District of Japan on March 11. All the activities to make the people in the area cheerful and happy have been realized based on the planning (V.S Note) organized by the school children. Those activities such as “Greeting Campaign, Voluntary Cleaning, and Fund-Raising on the Street” and so on.
Store owners and association members of the town-block are willing to cooperate with children while offering the needed spaces and so on.
“Primary school is the most powerful base point to prevent disasters. The school children
will communicate and grow up with the people in the area and the area people will also prosper with them” Mr. Kuno says.