Every morning on Oshika, the sounds of the schoolchildren from Ohara Elementary School wake me, as they get off the school bus outside the community centre where I stay. The Principal stands by the bus door, greeting every single child as they step off the bus and run up the little hill to the school entrance. I love watching them each morning. If I’m a little late rising, then instead I hear them in their garden just outside the window in the room where I sleep. I like to open the curtains and watch them tend to the vegetables.
I do this with a mixture of sadness and happiness. I am sad because I know that half of these students come from the nearby town of Yagawa, which was completely wiped out by the tsunami. The children of Yagawa Elementary School huddled together on top of a small hill only a few feet higher than their school, which was submerged by the incoming ocean. They now attend Ohara.
I am sad because lots of the children on Oshika have left the peninsula and moved into the city — so many children here have lost their playmates as well as their playgrounds. The ones that remain now live in tiny temporary housing units, crammed in and with neighbours right next door. There is very little opportunity to run about or be noisy the way that kids naturally are.
But watching the children also makes me happy because so many of them survived, their teachers greet them with big smiles every day, and they are able to laugh and have fun during the times they are together with their (smaller) group of friends.
I’d really like to give the parents and children together the chance to get away from their new homes, just for a couple of days, and to run about together, laughing and shouting as loud as they can. And I have one particular place in mind for that ….. Disneyland.
Here’s my idea …… Oshika children and their parents go on an exciting trip to the big city of Tokyo, where they are greeted by a host family whom they will stay for two nights before travelling back to Oshika. During the time in Tokyo, everybody spends the day together at Disneyland — letting the kids run riot and giving the parents lots to smile about — creating happy memories with some very special new friends.
Would you like to be a host family?
You need to be willing to open your home to a family from Oshika, providing dinner for them on the night they arrive and a place for them to sleep. The next day you will all head off to Disneyland together, along with the other Oshika and Tokyo families. The following morning you need to be able to provide breakfast, before the Oshika families head back to Tohoku.
This is a wonderful opportunity to provide a very special experience for a family that has been through so much, as well as for your own family to have a unique experience. I will match your children with children of a similar age — perhaps this could be the start of some very special friendships.
Oshika people speak very little English but please don’t worry if you can’t speak Japanese …… communication isn’t always about words. And don’t worry if you’re not sure whether you have the space — it’s not necessary to provide a huge sleeping area. The practical details aren’t so important — it’s the emotional details that are.
Each host family will also treat the Tohoku families to the trip, so you need to be able to provide a maximum of ¥100,000 per family. This will pay for a family of four to travel from Sendai to Tokyo and back, and also go to Disneyland …. depending on how many people are within the family and how many people actually participate and how successful I am at persuading Disney to support this. The sponsorship amount may actually be a lot less.
If you are interested in being a host family for this project, please contact me by email at . The Tohoku families will arrive in Tokyo in 2013 on March 30th and leave on April 1st, and everybody goes to Disneyland on March 31st, so there is plenty of time to get organized! And if you'd like to support this somehow but are not sure if you can host or sponsor a family, then drop me a line anyway. I'm sure there is a way for you to help.