School is a place where you can achieve things which can only be achieved now.


Municipal Iwaki Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School, Fukushima
(Translated by Red Cross Language Service Volunteers)

Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School had temporarily moved because of the nuclear accident. However, the school started again half a year after the accident and is making efforts, even now, to bring back the previous environment surrounding the school. What is the significance for those school children who have continued to live in the area where they grew up?

Deprived of an “ordinary” life by the nuclear accident

Hisanohama-machi, located in the north east of Iwaki City, is a scenic coastal town. It once prospered as a port town, boasting its coastal fishery. However, the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster that happened as a result of the earthquake drastically changed the lives of the local people.

As of 18:25, March 12 in 2011, the government issued evacuation instructions to those who lived within a 20 kilometer radius of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Hisanohama-machi is located within the 30 kilometer radius. The following day, March 13th, Iwaki City requested, at their own judgment, that the Hisanohama-machi residents should evacuate voluntarily. The city started to move the residents by emergency buses.

Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School accepted the request to evacuate, but still continued lessons for the children in the borrowed rooms of another school’s building in Iwaki City. The principal, Mr. Koji Matsumoto says, “We were offered their meeting room and assembly room, then we partitioned them off for classes. Although the children seemed to be happy there, they must have been under great stress in an unusual environment. There was a much higher than usual number of children who went to the school infirmary as they felt sick, so I found it strongly necessary to help them return to their everyday way of life.”

Children create change at their homes and in the community

On October 11th, 2011, Matsumoto resumed classes at Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School. It was one of the first schools to do so in the areas which the government had appointed to be evacuated. Matsumoto decided to do this after having put the school in order, as well as having engaged in the decontamination work for half a year, working together with the parent-teacher association and the people in the community. He had proved that the numbers showed the environment around the school to be already safe and prepared the school for children to come back with no problems.

“There was a choice for the children. They could go to another school rather than come back here. Some families evacuated from Hisanohama to other places, so there was an option for children to move to another school. In the year of 2011, 232 children had been scheduled to enroll in our school. We started the new school year on April 5th with 150 children, but as of October 11th of that year, the number increased to 191. A few of them are currently living far away from the school, so they get on a school bus at 6:40 every morning and come to school, taking as long as one hour and a half,” says Matsumoto.

Those children, who came back to Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School, had just a simple wish, “We want to study with everybody as before and to play the same as we used to.” Matsumoto says that the school is responsible for taking seriously what the children think about. ”If children talk to their parents at home about the school saying, ‘It was fun at school today!’, it will bring happy smiles to the parents’ faces. If those parents talk about this at work, ’My kid did well at school and I was happy', their colleagues feel happy. When children make themselves happy, their home, their parents’ workplaces, and their community will be happy as well and that will spread over Hisanohama and Fukushima .”

Changes extend to the community, starting from school. When Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School opened again, there were times when elderly people in the neighborhood visited the school just to see the children. Matsumoto says, “Those granddads and grandmas told me that they felt uplifted, seeing the children in high spirits. The fact that children are living in the place where they grew up builds up the strength in the community, I believe.”

Continuous efforts to keep children safe
Almost two years have passed since Hisanohama Daiichi Elementary School reopened their doors. The school, even now, measures the amount of radiation in every nook and cranny every morning, taking one hour, and report the results to the parents by e-mail. It is required for the school to continue such sensitive efforts to keep the children safe, as well as the community. The school takes the initiative with a whole-body counter and thyroid examinations for children in order to prove that they are not harmed, which have convinced their parents.

>>Photo:A big indicator for radiation in the air is set in the school yard so that the amount of radiation can be easily seen. The amount of radiation is reported to the parents every morning at 9:00 am by e-mail.

Matsumoto says, “For us, the struggle has been ongoing since the nuclear accident happened, but we cannot be defeated by this situation. We should not give up because we cannot do it, but need to change our attitude to ‘we can do it.’ We can go on potato digging outings, making Tanabata displays with bamboo branches, and swimming in the pool if we give the matter a lot of consideration. We cannot eat those potatoes we have grown in the school yard, but if we go to the farming families living in other places and help them, it is possible for children to experience digging up potatoes. We can manage to get bamboo branches for the Tanabata display from distant places. There is no problem about the swimming pool if decontamination is carried out. It is our maximum role to encourage children to do what they can do only now.”

>>Photo:Disaster helmets are placed at the exit of the school building.

Original Text in Japanese(p6-7)