For four weeks, the Second Onagawa Primary School building in Miyagi Prefecture was empty, but now students are back in its classrooms and filling its corridors with their laughter. Nearly 800 children returned to the school today, a month after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March. Report by Mihoko Nakagawa
“I am delighted to see you coming back,” Principal Michiko Kajitani told students during the first back-to-school ceremonies to be organized in Miyagi Prefecture. “Now we will study hard and help each other.”
The building will be shared with students from another school whose facilities were destroyed by the earthquake. “Let us welcome our new friends and stay strong together,” said Ms. Kajitani.
Sadaharu Endo, head of the Onagawa City Board of Education, added: “We put children’s education first. We make every single effort for our children to go back to school.”
Tragic memories, one month on
Traditionally, April is a time of new hope as children start a new school year in Japan. Though children were thrilled to be back at the Second Onagawa Primary School, terrible memories of the recent tragedy were still very fresh.
“I lost so many things in the earthquake. My beloved friends left for somewhere far away”, said sixth-grader Anna Watanabe. “But I will try to smile. Our smiles can rebuild not only the school, but also the community.”
Today’s back-to-school ceremony was originally scheduled to take place last Friday. However, a strong tremor struck the area the night before, and more aftershocks persisted through the night, forcing a postponement for safety reasons.
“Some children burst into tears when they learned they would have to wait again,” said one teacher who had to visit her students at shelters to tell them the news.
Working with local authorities
UNICEF and the Japan Committee for UNICEF are working hand-in-hand with local governments in the quake- and tsunami-affected areas to support back-to-school initiatives. The students who returned to school in Miyagi Prefecture all received UNICEF school bags filled with stationery and supplies.
In a message conveyed to the children, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake offered his congratulations.
“I thank all the people who made this back-to-school day possible,” he said. “I send all my very best wishes for a wonderful school year.”
‘Back to normalcy’
Meanwhile, UNICEF, the Japan Committee and other partners are ready to deliver more aid to children and women affected by the disaster – including health services for mothers and infants and mother-child friendly environments. Advocacy efforts for orphans’ best interests are also under way.
“We will spare no efforts to bring our children back to normalcy”, said Ken Hayami, Executive Director of the Japan Committee for UNICEF.