Table Speech

Aiming to Become the Best Town for Child-rearing!

April 3, 2013

Ms. Mikiko Sugawara
Social Service Department, RikuzentakataCity
Child Care Support Center
Child Care Consultant

 The Child Care Support Center Ayukko was established in Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture. The name derived from abundant ayu (sweetfish) living in the Kesen River and its side streams. The Center opened in September 2005, attached to Imaizumi Nursery where children enjoyed the beauty of changing seasons that aroused their five senses. The Center also provided childcare consultations and we developed trusting relationships with mothers by listening attentively to them. We worked towards interacting closely with the Nursery. Ayukko children were fascinated by the traditional drum performance Kenka Tanabata, dreaming that one day they themselves could perform it. The Center served as a pre-nursery and helped children settle quickly into the nursery.

 The Great East Japan Earthquake hit the Tohoku area on March 11, 2011. The tsunami washed away the Center building and every single car of our staff members. When the Earthquake occurred, we hugged the toddlers, carried them on our back or led them by the hand and made a desperate flee outside the building. We climbed up the hill and made the secondary evacuation to an elementary school when the tsunami warning was issued. We further made the tertiary evacuation by running up the snowy mountain for three kilometers with ten children and took shelter at a temple. On March 12, we walked up to Osabe Nursery and spent a freezing night with only a few blankets. On the third day, two children were waiting for their parents, who could not fetch them due to their work. We, the Ayukko staff, put utmost priority on protecting our children’s lives.
 The Earthquake inflicted devastating damages as follows:
 •13 children were killed after their parents took them back.
 •41 children were orphaned.
 •127 children lost one of their parents.
 •Of the ten nursery schools in the city, two were completely destroyed, one was heavily damaged and one was inundated above floor level.

 Our staff members went around on foot to find out the safety of our children and their family after the Earthquake from mid-March to May. We also paid frequent visit to the morgue where we found young children and someone we knew from work, including our supervisor. We reopened Ayukko as a traveling playspace on May 10, jointly with the classroom for children with special needs. We borrowed space from elementary schools, public facilities and homes for the elderly. We all rejoiced our reunion. Comments made by our users are summarized as follows:
 •I longed for the reopening because there was no playspace.
 •Both children and mothers can make friends, with whom we share our stories and grief.
 •I can feel relaxed and refreshed.
 •I can experience and learn many things, before returning to the real world.
 •I am grateful that the staff members kindly delivered relief supply to our temporary housing faraway.

 I have focused on “mental care workshops” that “provide assistance taking into account individual needs.” Mothers and children who have lost husbands and fathers are suffering from grief, so deep that they often cannot share their feelings. I do hope our “mental care workshops” present an opportunity to share their stories and lighten their spirit though gradually.

 We are also grateful for assistance from across the country for our activity, “events that bring smile to us.” We also visited temporary housing and community centers to deliver diapers and baby formula.

 Thanks to the generous support by the Rotary Club of Tokyo, a temporary “Child Care Support Center” opened in February 2012. We reaffirmed the warmth and importance of connecting with others more keenly than ever. Its completion ceremony took place on a beautiful sunny day with the attendance of the mayor and guests from Tokyo RC.

 Today, we are based in this new building and conduct various activities centering around providing mental care to earthquake survivors, including our staff members who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We hope to serve as a meeting place where mothers feel motivated and confident in child-rearing and children play around using all five senses. Diverse and specific assistance needs to be implemented to reconstruct the area and to combat declining birth rate.

 Close collaboration with partners and related organizations will be vital. Long-term assistance to single-parent family, in-home care and support for those who cannot come to the Center as well as reducing stress of parents are all necessary. Town-building based on child-rearing support is also an important element.

 Thanks to the support by Tokyo RC, we held the dogwood tree-planting ceremony on November 6, 2012. In March, we had the Girls’ Festival. Many users come to our Center every day and I am encouraged by their sentiment and words of gratitude.

 I am determined to do my best every single day to make Rikuzentakata the “best town for child-rearing.” Let me close my speech by asking for your continuous support and understanding.