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Tohoku office launched; provides base for expanded efforts to provide long-term support for children who have lost their parents in the Japan earthquake and tsunami

2011/04/20 [Press release]

Ashinaga president calls for completion of Tohoku Rainbow House within two years

   On April 11, Ashinaga opened its “Ashinaga Tohoku Office” in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. The office will act as a base from which to coordinate and provide long-term material and psychological support for children who lost parents in the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Participating in the opening ceremony were high school and university students who lost parents in similar disasters, including the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995 and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
   Ashinaga also announced plans to construct a provisionally-named “Tohoku Rainbow House,” similar to its existing Kobe Rainbow House. The Tohoku facility will act as a center of care for children who lost parents in the earthquake and/or tsunami, and is scheduled for completion within two years of the March disaster. Furthermore, Ashinaga continues to dispatch teams of staff and students to the disaster region, where they are working to identify children who lost parents in the tragedy and publicize the Ashinaga special relief payment program.

“On the occasion of the launch of the Ashinaga Tohoku Office”
 ― Remarks by Yoshiomi Tamai, founder and president of Ashinaga

   First of all, I would like to offer my prayers for the terrible loss of life caused by the disaster. My thoughts are with all those who have been affected by this tragedy.
   Yesterday (April 10), I visited some of the areas hit by the tsunami. Thinking of the children who lost their beloved fathers and mothers, or whose parents remain missing, I cannot even begin to imagine the depths of the sadness they are experiencing. My heart feels as though it were being torn to pieces when I think of the days they are forced to endure, unable to find the slightest bright spot.
   The current figures for the dead and missing are already more than four times the losses suffered in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Ashinaga has spent the last 16 years together with approximately 600 children who lost parents in that disaster. And we will spend the future living with the children of Tohoku, who lost parents in the present catastrophe. As in Kobe, where we cared for children who had not even reached their first birthday—and who are now adults in their own right—so we will take a long-term view of care for the children of Tohoku, and provide them with both material and psychological support. This is the most critical task now facing Ashinaga, and we pledge to remain focused on this mission and our support for these children.
   There was a boy in fifth grade at the time of the Kobe earthquake, and I remember how he drew a picture of a black rainbow immediately after the disaster—and how he later came to draw a rainbow full of color. That is the spirit in which we have operated the Kobe Rainbow House, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that, one day, the children who lost parents in Tohoku will be able to draw their own rainbows full of color. But in geographic terms, damage from the earthquake and tsunami is extensive, and there are limits to what Ashinaga can do. We hope that people in local communities will support us and cooperate with our efforts in the region.

 ― A message from Yuri Fukui, a university student who lost her mother in the Kobe earthquake

   I lost my mother in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake when I was four years old. The child I was then could not understand, could not accept the idea that my mother was dead. As I grew older, and became able to understand my mother’s death, I often felt terribly sad and alone.
   What helped me cope with those feelings of sadness were the people I met at the Kobe Rainbow House. There I found elder brothers and sisters that, like me, had lost one or both parents. I found friends, and found the strength to talk about my sadness. I became able to play again…I would not have been able to make it, if not for Rainbow House.
   Yesterday, I had the chance to play with a sixth-grade girl at an evacuation center in Ishinomaki. When we were together, she spoke with incredible intensity about the earthquake, her family, and how she wanted to have an elementary school graduation ceremony. I sensed that she had no place to talk about all the thoughts and feelings she has inside her.
   I am sure that the current disaster has led to many, many people having experiences similar to—and worse than—my own. And there are people who keep their pain and sadness bottled up inside themselves, unable to talk to anyone about their feelings. Rainbow House is one place where people can let those bottled-up feelings out. I don’t think that people need to force themselves to accept the situation. But I do think it is important to remember that you are not alone, and to feel that you have friends.
   In the same way that so many people accompanied me in the 16 years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, so I will accompany the people of Tohoku.

“A call for material and psychological support”
 ― A message from Rahmat, a university student from Indonesia who lost his several family members in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

   I am from Banda Aceh in Indonesia. On December 26, 2004, I lost my mother and sister in the Indian Ocean tsunami. My whole family—except me—was at home when the tsunami hit. My father was lying down, as he was sick. Because I was at school then, I was not able to help save my family. Two days later, I returned home to look for my family. I found my mother’s body. But even though I saw it, I could not believe it. My brother’s body has still not been found. I was filled with grief.
   When I saw the images on TV of the tsunami in Tohoku, I remembered losing my parents. So now, I feel like the emotions of the people in the area hit by the disaster are my own.
   After hearing about this earthquake, I came up with the idea of raising money to help children affected by the disaster. But it is not only money that they need—emotional and psychological care is important, as well. I think it is necessary to provide both material and psychological help. I ask all of you to please give us your support.

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