After Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in 2011, World Vision worked with the town of Minamisanriku, a small, beautiful coastal area in the north-east, to make sure children were able to give their opinions on the reconstruction. Junior leaders – school student volunteers supported by the Board of Education – were key participants in the process.
How did they want the new town to look? How could they help rebuild their town? Honoka Miura, an eighth grader and local junior leader, tells about her experiences – and how she and her friends helped their community recover:
On March 11, 2011 I was at home because school was closed. Suddenly, I was surprised by huge shockwaves. I tried to go outside but I could hardly walk as the shockwaves grew bigger and bigger. My father helped me get out of the house and we ran to a nearby hill.
When I looked to the ocean, I could see the bay receding – a sign that a tsunami is coming. I watched a ship owned by my father’s friend being pulled out to sea and sunk. It seemed like a scene from a movie. Then my house was swallowed in an instant.
[Afterwards] we lived at the shelter for about two months. Our house had been swept away and our important possessions lost. We worried about our future, whether friends had survived, and whether our friends were safe. All we could do was to live each day; we felt helpless.
As the shock became less, I started to realise that the children at the shelter were all unhappy. All the adults were afraid of the earthquake and had made a big fuss about it. The children sensed this, and it magnified their own fears,
That’s when I decided to be a junior leader at this shelter. I made friends with the children quickly. We read books together, drew pictures, played cards, and practised the hand-play songs that I had learned as a junior leader. Our possibilities for play were limited in the shelter, but the children clearly became happier even if we only sat together and talked. And I was happier just being with them. They started calling me “the principal” each day we got together.
My next thought was: As junior leaders, can’t I and others also do something to help the reconstruction of Minamisanriku?
So we held a workshop with the help of the people at World Vision Japan.
[From this] our theme emerged: How can we fulfil our town’s dream and make our children cheerful again?
One question was how to develop close relations with local people, regardless of age. With that in mind, we came up with the idea of creating a café in our community centre. We thought many people, young and old, would use the café. They would communicate with one another. And the café would become a place that would create close personal links.
We had many other ideas. For example, we could make a park that children could play at. This park would also help keep our elderly from withdrawing from society. Also, because we all wanted to make our own town more disaster-resistant, we proposed to make a historical display in the town library, with a big map of evacuation shelters in town.
Finally, we summarised all of these ideas into a proposal.
And in June last year, I handed it directly to Mr Sato, our town mayor. If even only small parts of this proposal are realised, I hope and pray it will make a better, safer and stronger Minamisanriku.
Honestly, in the beginning, I think there were many adults who thought it was foolish for junior leaders to have ideas about reconstruction. But we were able to follow through on our ideas to the end and we succeeded because adults helped us. So, please let us have a try before you say: “Youngsters can’t do it.” We can see things that adults cannot see.
Much of the debris in town has [now] been removed. The town’s landscape has changed forever, but we have already gotten used to it. Many volunteers from throughout the world came to help us after the disaster, and many still come. We are very thankful for their help. But we cannot rely on volunteers forever. Rebuilding our town is our job.
This is an edited version of a talk Honoka gave to the United Nations in a special session on Water and Disaster, in the lead up to the two-year anniversary of the disaster.