Three years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, CWS continues to support local partners working to help survivors. Yukiko Maki-Murakami, project officer for CWS Japan, visited Fukushima with one of our generous donors in May 2014 to see firsthand some results of CWS’s recovery work with survivors of the disaster. Following are some of her impressions:
I regretted that due to my overseas assignment during the period it took me over three years to make my first visit to Fukushima after the nuclear power plant disaster. When I heard the stories of actual victims, I felt ashamed of the superficial knowledge I had gained from secondhand reports.
I accompanied Eiichiro Kuwana of the Japanese American Association of New York. The association was one of the donors to the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami project, which ended after three years. Kuwana was very much interested in seeing and knowing the current situation and issues toward the recovery of Fukushima.
Our host, Hiroyuki Yoshino of Shalom, one of our implementing partners, took us to Sayuri Nursery School to show us how children in Fukushima were surviving under difficult circumstances. Sayuri Nursery currently accommodates 97 local pre-school children including infants and evacuated children from other areas. The municipality decontaminated their playground and re-opened it to the children one year ago.
The disaster has surely affected the lifestyle of children in Fukushima. According to Kuniaki Sato, the principal of the nursery, in the first two years after the nuclear power plant accident, the children were playing only indoors with curtains shut all the time, which has caused decreases in their physical strength. Until today, they cannot play in fields to pick wild flowers and catch insects. The nursery teachers told us how they have made efforts to nurse children in such a difficult environment.
As the mother of a teenager, I felt pity for those children for whom access to the natural environment was restricted because of high radiation.
One of the nursery teachers told us of her experiences during the critical period of radioactive contamination. She wished she could have evacuated if she had not been a nursery teacher. She expressed her worries about a high staff turnover rate in the nursery.
Furthermore, while evacuated people are beginning to return, the psychological distances between evacuees and the survivors who remained in contaminated areas is now becoming a divisive issue. An income difference between compensated ones and others is another issue dividing the community. Although this may not be a well-known issue outside Fukushima, it could lead to serious problems in the local communities in the future.
Taking into account the lessons learned from the last three years’ experiences, Yoshino now is starting a new psycho-social program and a mapping project to monitor radiation around 50 nurseries and schools within Fukushima City.
CWS Japan also is committed to supporting the implementing partners continuously in this development phase in order to hasten the rehabilitation of Fukushima.
There seems to be no end in sight for the struggles of people in Fukushima. It is my sincere hope that our support can continue to be of some help to relieve the tensions in Fukushima.
Yukiko Maki-Murakami, Project Officer, CWS