To Live With a Spirit
2011.11.23 update 2011.07
This is a short story about a teacher in Fukushima who strives to work with students who were the victims of the earthquakes.
* * *
There was a new female student joining his class today.
She was displaced from her hometown after the massive earthquakes and tsunamis which struck on Mach 11th, 2011.
Before her eyes, her home was swept away. She was one of the many school children who have lost their homes and schools. After living in a shelter for a while, she has decided to move into her grandmother's house which was situated far from her own hometown. Inevitably, she had to transfer to a new school.
"What kind of words and topics would be appropriate for her?" the teacher wondered.
He carefully chose his words as he gave her a tour through the school on her first day.
"What was it like when you were in your previous school?" the teacher asked.
There was no response.
As he turned around, he saw the girl looked pale and nervous.
In order to ease her anxiety, the teacher decided to incorporate a program; the whole class had a stretching session every morning before the classes begin. She didn't smile a bit, however, avoiding eye contact with the other students.
Besides the basic curriculum, the girl was given a duty in the audio visual tasks.
"Play whatever you like," the teacher said to her. She smiled slightly. She was allowed to play her favorite pop songs in the mornings.
In about a month, she gradually has started to speak about her experience of the earthquakes.
She began to share her horrific experience about the tsunamis, the life in the shelter, her displaced family members and separated friends who evacuated to Aizu City and Niigata prefecture.
On Parents' day, her entire family, including her grandparents and her brother came all the way from another prefecture to see her in the new school. "She should be alright, especially with so much support from her family," the teacher was convinced so.
"It's been very difficult. But I strive and believe that, someday, I can go back to my hometown," she wrote in a letter addressed to herself during an in-class assignment. Her words moved him so much that his tears came down, and it did not stop.
The triple disasters; the earthquakes, the tsunamis and the meltdown of nuclear power plants have brought about the changes in the academic programs. Measurement of radiation using Geiger counter was mandated on every morning. The students' outdoor activities were limited and closely monitored. Counseling was necessary in order to keep track of the students' mental and physical conditions. The teachers also visited the students' homes or shelters and met their parents to discuss the conditions of the students.
The school lunch started to be served again only for the student who chose to eat it. The teachers came to be busy with the clerical work for the lunch fees.
The aftercare of the students was so intense that it was mounting pressure on the faculty members who have also never dealt with this situation before. "Our future is uncertain. I don't quite know how to effectively provide support for the kids," the teacher grieved. By mid-May, he was exhausted both mentally and physically, fighting with fever while taking medications.
"We, the faculty members, are not properly trained to handle this type of situation; even among the peers, each faculty has different approach and a set of principles. We are doing the best we can to help out the kids, but beneath our effort is our own desperation and anxiety; I'm sure some of us want to flee from this situation. But we are reminded that our mission is to serve the public, to help out others.
The aftermaths of the disasters displaced many people in Fukushima, ruthlessly changing the courses of our future and our children. Human resources, especially those with skills, are essential in recovery and reconstruction of the areas affected by the disasters. The government officials, on the other hand, need to standardize the procedure for radiation scanning and treatment so that the children can receive fair evaluation without discrepancies.
We live in a society that is inundated with information. False information can spread in seconds and this can amplify the fear in public and cause panic. So what is important in our survival is to trust our own judgment and make decisions reasonably and responsibly. And we must nurture our children and bolster their spirits. In this difficult time, many children suffer from trauma. So we encourage them to stay positive and prompt their active decisions. We tell them that every decision comes with responsibility.
Even in a critical moment--such that a child is determined to be exposed to radioactivity--we would try to ask him how he'd think he should deal with the situation, prompting his active thinking. Of course, his decision may be right or wrong, and it should not overturn professional advice by any means, but we try to turn this dilemma into an opportunity for him to think actively.
"It is not so easy to move to another place or also to change jobs, even though the nuclear plants still have problems. There may be another earthquakes and tsunamis to this place in the future. Anything is possible in this life. So how would you go about living? We, both adults and children, should learn to survive."
(Translated by Ryohei Saito)