Stories of Change

Group games on the beach. Photo courtesy Setouchi YMCA.

Overcoming trauma through camp in Japan

Torrential rains battered the Japanese town of Mabi in July. The town, which is in Okayama Prefecture, lost more than 2,000 houses in the devastation. Two months after the storm’s worst days, Mabi’s streets are no longer streams of mud. The flooded buildings, though, remain empty. Simply put, Mabi is a ghost town.

In an effort to support some of the children who lost their homes in the storm, CWS Japan and partners organized a camp outing for 40 elementary school children from Mabi. These kids and their families now live in government-supported temporary housing. With generous support from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, CWS Japan and our partner Setouchi YMCA organized this camping trip.

Our team knows the importance of giving children affected by disasters a mental break from the stress and trauma. We saw it after the 2011 Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and again in 2016 after the Kumamoto earthquake. This trip was one way to relieve some of the children’s anxiety about living in temporary housing.

The outing was to the YMCA camp on uninhabited Yoshima Island. It’s a small island that has a lot of great nature for kids, especially sea life. The camp has a daily reflection time each evening, which is particularly helpful in feeling calmer and refreshed. These students had the chance to do all the usual camp activities: playing sports, kayaking, fishing – and, of course, singing! One highlight – which isn’t typical at U.S. summer camps – was learning to cook fresh octopus!

The night before they left camp, children had the opportunity to share their feelings and thoughts with fellow campers and camp leaders around the campfire – and this was important for everyone. Most children talked about three days of carefree fun, and some mentioned how they wished the camp would not end. But, in fact, they returned to their parents and lives in Mabi a bit refreshed and happier, to continue helping their families recover and regain their balance.