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Japan 2011

It is impossible to find powerful enough words to describe the most recent events in the northeast Japanese island of Honshu. After an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude on March 11th which shook the northeast of Japan, a tsunami of unimaginable scale reached the region around the city of Sendai only a few hours later. One is left breathless watching the videos, which circulated around the internet, of the most devastating earthquake in Japan’s history, which caused the deaths of many people. How many people lost their relatives and all of their possessions, is not know. But it is certain, that their inner balance has been radically disrupted and not only the external devastation is immense but also the internal.

A crisis team of the Friends of Waldorf Education journeyed to Japan for a two-week emergency pedagogy mission on April 27th. They worked with traumatised children and offered continuing education courses for pedagogues in Sendai, Onagawa, Tokyo, and other locations. Already shortly after the earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 on March 11th, which especially affected the north-eastern region of the Japanese island Honshu, the Friends of Waldorf Education contacted Japanese friends and colleagues in the crisis region. The offering to support affected children and adolescents in processing the horrifying events and to give local professionals additional methods for processing trauma, was meet with great interest.

In close cooperation with contact persons on location and intensive advising from experts in the area of radiation protection, the mission was carefully prepared. The team consisted of professionals in the areas of Waldorf pedagogy, art therapy, medicine, and eurhythmy, and worked under the direction of Bernd Ruf, acting director of the organisation and school director of the Parzival School Centre in Karlsruhe. During the emergency pedagogy mission, the team was accompanied by the Japanese colleagues, who energetically supported the work as well as functioning as interpreters. After arriving in Tokyo, the emergency team drove to the city of Sendai, where many families are living in emergency shelters, because large stretches of land and many towns were totally destroyed by the immense tsunami. In schools, kindergartens, and emergency shelters in and around Sendai, group work focused on experiential pedagogy, art therapy, and other topics could be realised, which psycho-socially stabilised children and supported them in coping with their experiences. Parents and teachers also worked with the emergency pedagogues, because adults too are traumatised by natural catastrophes and need to be in addition sensitised to the changes in children’s behaviour caused by trauma. On Sunday May 7th, the “Friends”-team travelled back to Tokyo to hold a two day workshop for teachers, in which traumatology, emergency pedagogy, and its methods were introduced and made visible with practical exercises.

The mission was physically and psychologically stressful not only because of the reactor catastrophe in Fukushima. Just the sight of the unimaginable destruction affects traumatisingly, to say nothing of hearing the countless experience reports of the catastrophe. But this is all more than offset by the experience, of being able to give children’s eyes their brightness back in the middle of the suffering, through being present and with simple pedagogical measures. And next to all the devastating experiences, there are also reports which give hope and show, that through initiative out of responsibility disaster can be averted too: In Ohfunato, Hirati, a city council member, fought for decades for the building of safety stairs from the lower lying school to the mountain above it. The necessary structure was rejected many times due to high construction costs and was first realised shortly before Hirati’s retirement. After the official inauguration, Hirati died. On Japan’s dark day, all the pupils and teachers could be rescued over these stairs, before the tsunami waves swept away the school building with the safety stairs. Included in the rescued pupils was also a grandson of Hirati.

Here you can read a report by mission director Bernd Ruf (in German, English translation in progress).

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