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Asian Health Institute Trainees Visit Hiroshima

For the past eight years, ANT-Hiroshima has marked the beginning of autumn with the Asian Health Institute‘s three-day workshop in Hiroshima. This year, 12 trainees from 10 Asian countries participated in the 28-30 October workshop, which is part of a six-week “International Course on Leadership for Community Health and Development” that took place at AHI’s training facility in Aichi Prefecture. The trainees, mainly representing NGOs that work for public health, come together in Japan to share expertise with each other in order to improve their capacity as community leaders and increase local participation in public health initiates across multiple sectors.

The portion of the training coordinated by ANT-Hiroshima began by teaching participants about Hiroshima’s history and then introduced them to a number of social welfare or peace-related initiatives in the city, which function as case studies for the trainees.

The AHI trainees offered 1,000 paper cranes at the Peace Park.

On the first day, ANT-Hiroshima Executive Director Tomoko Watanabe shared with participants how the experiences of Hiroshima inspire her work. After lunch, participants visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park to deepen their knowledge of the city’s history. Finally, Tomoko-san’s mother, Teruko Ueno, shared her experience of the atomic bombing with the group. A thorough knowledge of the past is a necessary foundation for understanding how and why many organizations in Hiroshima work, and perhaps trainees reflected on the relationship between their own organizations and the history of their communities.

The next day, the group visited Motomachi Elementary school, then split into two groups to see either the welfare corporation Hagukumi no Sato or Tabete Karō Kai and retired social worker Chikako Nakamoto. Please read last year’s blog post about that portion of the training for more details.

The third day began with a guest lecture from Masae Yuasa, a professor in the Hiroshima City University Faculty of International Studies. Professor Yuasa presented trainees with a critical view of peace and anti-nuclear activism in Hiroshima and included some of her own experiences of intellectually grappling with mass human tragedy.

The group then had lunch at the recently opened Social Book Cafe Hachidori-sha and listened to a talk by owner Erika Abiko. Abiko-san explained that her motivation for opening the cafe was to create a space where people felt comfortable having open, productive discussions about peace and other social issues. She also detailed the practical side of how she gathered funds and volunteers to help build Hachidori-sha.

AHI trainees and staff with Abiko-san at Hachidori-sha

For the final sessions of the workshop, the group adjourned to the ANT-Hiroshima office, where trainees discussed ANT’s work through a question and answer session with ANT staff and three participants in ANT’s Hibaku Taiken Keishō Juku, a class aimed to give participants a thorough knowledge of the atomic bombing and raise their capacity as memory keepers of Hiroshima’s experience. The three Juku participants are also trained by Hiroshima City to work as official memory keepers. The group was particularly interested in the memory keepers’ work, as well as their three-year training process.

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The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget

This August marked the third year ANT-Hiroshima has helped organize free performances of the recitation play The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget (Natsu no Kumo wa Wasurenai). This year, members of Natsu no Kai, the group of actresses who have been performing the play across Japan since 2008, gave three performances for students from Hiroshima’s public junior high schools. Around 2,300 students saw the play.

ANT-Hiroshima first became involved with The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget after staff and volunteers were moved by a performance of the play. They had been searching for effective ways to convey and hand over the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to younger generations through art and thought The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget was an excellent way to do so. ANT-Hiroshima coordinates with Natsu no Kai, local educators, and venues to hold the free performances. More and more schools and students have participated since ANT-Hiroshima began the project three years ago; in past years elementary school students have also attended.

Morii-san and Takemura-san visiting a junior high school (2016)

Takako Morii and Ikuko Takemura, both hibakusha, spearheaded the project in order to give a greater number local students the opportunity to learn about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Morii-san and Takemura-san lead fundraisers to support the project, and the money goes directly toward implementing performances. Many donors are hibakusha themselves. Along with fundraising, Morii-san and Takemura-san visit audience members’ schools to further deepen the play’s impact as peace education. They discuss the events described in the script and provide more context through sharing their own experiences.

The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget‘s script comprises of testimonies and poems written by hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as American photographer Joe O’Donnell. Perhaps the most well-known work included in the script is Sadako Kurihara’s poem “Let us be Midwives!” Along with testimonies written from an adult’s perspective, there are also shorter ones from children, which are read by five or six local junior high school students who join the production. The play ends with “Words of Farewell”: The performers trade off saying victims’ last words, which are as simple and poignant as a call for mother or asking a soldier “Why has this happened?”

A performance at Gion Higashi Junior High School

Although one might expect a recitation play to feel less polished than a memorized performance, the staging of The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget was impressive and professional. Six chairs were the only setting, and the actresses deftly moved them between scenes to change the atmosphere. The lighting was dynamic, using changing color or a shifting spotlight to convey more movement than the actresses themselves, who were always still while speaking. At the beginning of each scene, the title and author of each testimony or poem was projected on a screen at the rear of the stage.

The six actresses, all of a venerable age and with storied careers, gave subtle and contentious performances. During a question and answer session between the actresses and around 15 students following one of the performances, a student asked how the actresses put their own emotion into their recitation. One actress replied, “We do not try to express our own emotions. Rather, we imagine the feelings of the writer and try to convey their voice. That’s why we don’t raise our faces when we read from the script.” The recitation play’s medium is an integral part of its message.

Although they prioritize the voices in the script and are not themselves from Hiroshima or Nagasaki, the actresses said they all have experienced war. Their approach to performing does not emphasize their own emotion, but their motivation for performing is grounded in personal experience.

A flyer for The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget

The question and answer session began with all the students sharing a short reflection about the play. Many students’ comments included a confirmed belief that war is wrong, that they could better imagine what the atomic bombings were like, and that they also wanted to do something to tell this story. The actresses said this last comment is what they are happiest to hear from people who watch The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget. 

In his reflection, one of the students connected the play with his worry about North Korea, which had launched a missile over Hokkaido only the day before. An actress responded that Japan was once a military nation not so different from today’s North Korea. From comments and experiences like this, hopefully the students can gain a nuanced historical perspective, improve their critical thinking, and develop a similarly nuanced and open-minded view of the present. An actress said, “From now on, you have to decide for yourself what’s true.”

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Book Review: Shigeko! A Girl from Hiroshima Crosses the Ocean

In her book Shigeko! Hiroshima kara umi wo watatte (Shigeko! A Girl from Hiroshima Crosses the Ocean), Seiko Suga chronicles the life of Shigeko Sasamori, a woman who was badly scarred in the atomic bombing, received reconstructive surgery in Tokyo and the U.S., and later permanently moved to the latter. The nonfiction book, published in 2010, is framed by Seiko meeting with Shigeko in Hiroshima to learn about her life; the chapters then switch to Seiko narrating Shigeko’s experiences in third person. Although Shigeko! is unavailable in English, the Japanese, targeted at children in late elementary school, is easy enough to understand without perfect knowledge of the language.

Shigeko’s story begins on August 6, 1945, when she was 13 years old. After being exposed to and horribly burned by the atomic bomb near Tsurumi Bridge, Shigeko managed to walk to what is now Danbara Elementary School, where she laid semi-conscious for four days without receiving medial attention, food, or water. She continuously mumbled her name and address, and finally someone told Shigeko’s family where she was. After bringing her home, Shigeko’s family nursed her back from the brink of death, but she still had severe keloid scars on her face, neck, and hands, the latter of which would give her a lifelong slight handicap.

Monument to Norman Cousins in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

After meeting Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto at Nagarekawa Methodist Church, Shigeko joined a group of young women all scarred by the bomb. Some of them traveled to Tokyo to receive reconstructive surgery; it was then that the term “Atomic Bomb Maidens” became widely publicized in Japan. Through Reverend Tanimoto’s introduction, Shigeko met journalist and writer Norman Cousins, who was visiting Hiroshima with his wife. Cousins raised money for 25 young women from Hiroshima, including Shigeko, to undergo more surgery New York City in 1955. Inspired by both her time in the U.S. and in hospitals, Shigeko decided to return to the States in 1958 to study nursing. She became Cousins’ adopted daughter.

The book then follows Shigeko as she works hard to master English, become a nurse’s aide, help difficult but ultimately gracious patients, and raise her son. Over the years, Shigeko began to do more and more public speaking. After retiring from nursing, she visited schools, universities, and other functions to share her experience of the atomic bombing and advocate for peace. Shigeko also visited Chernobyl to speak with people affected by the nuclear disaster there.

The author closes the story with two examples of Shigeko speaking to students in the U.S., one at an elementary school and the other at Winona State University, from which Shigeko received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2009. In her talks, Shigeko spoke about hating and fearing war itself rather than the country that dropped the atomic bomb, about young people’s potential to create a peaceful world, and about the necessity of living one’s life with courage, action, and love.

Shigeko and her son (Photo taken from the book)

Shigeko! rewrites “Atomic Bomb Maidens” as “Hiroshima Girls” in more than just name. While undergoing surgery in Tokyo and before their departure to the U.S., Japanese media referred to the group by the former moniker. However, Shigeko and the other young women didn’t much like that phrase — “As if there was nothing more to our lives than the atomic bomb.” Americans often called Shigeko and the others “Hiroshima Girls” instead, which made Shigeko feel more accepted as a person and free in her identity. The bombing of Hiroshima, the people she met, and her experiences in the U.S. all shaped Shigeko’s life, and all are given due weight in Shigeko!

Despite the scope of its story and open view of identity, Shigeko! sometimes lacks complexity. Perhaps simplicity is just a characteristic of children’s literature, but it occasionally feels like something is being left out of the book. Embracing more emotional and social complexity could, in turn, develop readers’ own nuanced understanding of the people and events the story describes.

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Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers Project Underway in the Philippines

ANT-Hiroshima is partnering with the non-profit organization ABA Trainings Inc. for the latter’s project Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers, which will set up Toy Libraries in 20 elementary schools in Zamboanga City, Philippines. The project, also supported by the organization Philippine Toy Library, is spearheaded by Aldrin Bucoy Abdurahim, ABA Trainings Inc.’s founder and president.

The Toy Libraries are intended to help children learn about peace and value education through having fun. Educational toys, housed at the libraries and used to teach lessons, include books, stuffed toys, science and musical toys, slides, abacuses, puzzles, and cards.

Students at a local school say thanks

In order to set up the Toy Libraries, ABA Trainings Inc. needed book shelves, flooring linoleum, and posters in addition to the toys themselves. ANT-Hiroshima provided funding support for shelves and also plans to send copies of “Paper Crane Journey” to furnish the Libraries.

Aldrin said he was inspired by ANT-Hiroshima, particularly its commitment to building strong relationships, when he visited Hiroshima in 2010 as part of the Philippine delegation to JICA’s Training Program for Young Leaders on post-war reconstruction and peace-building. After participating in the program, Aldrin wanted to strengthen the relationship between Hiroshima and Zamboanga City.

ABA stands for Action Bridges Aspirations, but the name has further meanings. According to Aldrin, the word “aba” means “awakening to something you are good at” in Chavacano, the creole language used in Zamboanga City. The non-profit also carries the same initials as its founder.

Children at one of ABA Trainings Inc.’s partner schools

After being legally recognized as an NGO in 2015, ABA Trainings Inc. established five Peace Crane Centers across Zamboanga City in 2016. The organization works in local schools and communities and conducts programs on education, youth empowerment, leadership development for students, and team-building for teachers. Aldrin said the Toy Libraries project, ABA’s main focus in 2017, was built on the NGO’s engagement with many schools in the region through their other programs.

Currently, three of ABA Trainings Inc.’s peace centers have been converted to Toy Libraries, and the others are in the process of being set up. Aldrin plans to officially launch the 20 Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers on 6 August 2017.

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ANT-Hiroshima Contributes to Build up Nepal

ANT-Hiroshima helped sponsor a Build up Nepal project to rebuild a health post and school in Jyamrung, a village in central Nepal. Build up Nepal is an NGO “dedicated to rebuilding villages and fighting poverty in rural areas of Nepal,” according to their website.

ANT-Hiroshima first became involved with Build up Nepal when Hiroshima Jogakuin University student Isooda Ajdari proposed that ANT-Hiroshima support one of the organization’s reconstruction projects. Ajdari raised 70,000 yen selling udon at Jogakuin’s school festival; ANT then donated the money. Tomoko Watanabe, executive director of ANT-Hiroshima, visited Jyamrung during her trip to Nepal in April 2017.

Tomoko-san at the construction site

The partially constructed health post

ANT-Hiroshima recently received word from Andreas Kölling, Build up Nepal’s social business developer and sales manager, that reconstruction work in Jyamrung is speeding along, with the health post and living quarters already built up to roof level. The two buildings are expected to be completed within the next two months. Once completed, Build up Nepal’s partners Tuki Nepal Society and Tukee Nepal Samaj will use the health post to bring healthcare to Jyamrung and the neighboring villages.

The foundation of the other building project in Jyamrung, a school, is under construction. The school is planned to have 11 classrooms, and roughly 150 local students, currently studying in a temporary tin-shed school, will be able to use the new facility once it is completed.

The under-construction school (photo courtesy of Build up Nepal)

“The reconstruction work has created a lot of interest in all of Jyamrung,” Andreas wrote. “Together we are creating change and a better future for the children and youth there.”

Local students (photo courtesy of Build up Nepal)

Build up Nepal uses Earth Bricks to construct earthquake-resistant buildings. The Earth Brick machine doesn’t use electricity, so it can be used even in remote villages. Around 14,000 bricks are necessary to complete the Jyamrung project.

When Build up Nepal began work in Jyamrung, it first trained local community members on how to use the machine and build with the bricks, and training to expand the number of locals with building skills is ongoing. The training begins by covering topics such as safety measures, soil testing, machine operation and maintenance, and quality assurance. Next, trainees learn about the construction of earthquake-resistant foundations and how to cast beams and build walls. Using reinforcing bars and mortar in the walls makes the buildings stronger and more earthquake resistant.

Locals constructing Earth Bricks (photo courtesy of Build up Nepal)

Even after the health post and school are built, the community can continue rebuilding other parts of the village. Build up Nepal makes sure to train locals in the whole production process to make sure they can function independently.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima