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August 10, 2011 / Mika Riedel

Out of the shelters and into the recovering communities.

Tuesday May 24th 2011

It’s going on 2 whole months since we started the Children’s Refuge Center.

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As I described in “Reason to Live”, I have been haphazardly trying to put my remaining life to use. Focusing on my home town, now completely changed, and the people who live there.

It began in one corner of Ishinomaki High School which I have grown attached to.

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We tried various activities by trial and error, reading aloud, physical recreation and so on. At first the children and everyone else at the shelter looked on with uncertainty, however, before long they began to catch on and enjoy themselves.

Now our “Rainbow crayons” project has expanded to 9 shelters and assembly halls.

I am overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude to everyone. To my sister Ryoko, and my nephew Aichan who supported it from the start. The survivors who accepted us. The volunteers who understood what we were trying to do and joined in. And to all the people who donated money and various supplies.

Now, 2 months have passed and I am sensing a large change.

The number of people showing up at the shelters has abruptly begun to shrink. Looking for a more stable environment, they are moving to temporary housing or alternate shelters. According to Miyagi prefecture’s records, on May 9th there were 8776 refugees and 107 shelters in the entire city of Ishinomaki. On April 10th, there had been 16004 refugees and 134 shelters. In just one month the number of refugees has roughly halved.

Just looking at these numbers it might seem as if conditions are improving and everything is progressing well. In reality, many are moving into small, crowded apartments or being forced in with family members under tight living conditions. The fact that they are still victims suffering from the disaster hasn’t changed.

Particularly in Ishinomaki city, the population is rapidly increasing in the less damaged regions of Hebita, Akebono, and Hinata. Even the most run-down apartments are full and empty lots that were slow to sell prior to the disaster are almost completely bought up. The schools in these districts have a lot of children seeking admission and it appears their burden will continue to grow. Gymnasiums have become shelters, parks are now temporary housing plots, and places for children to play have dwindled.

Things might be shifting from the shelters to the recovering town.

The Children’s Refuge Center has begun looking after the mental well being of children at the shelters. Although consolidation of these shelters has been progressing rapidly, it will be a long time before they disappear. Of course, the Rainbow Crayons activities will continue.

In addition, as children in need of mental care move from the shelters to the recovering town, as they change locations, I imagine we will have to find new ways to continue our work.

There are no specific details yet, but we will continue our activities for the children in the disaster area.

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Written by Kodomo Hinanjo Club on 5/24/2011.

Translated by Paul Haugerud and Takako Kawamukai.

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