Former elementary school principal from Date, Fukushima pref. had a talk about the life of children in radiation-affected area:

Sensuke Shishido giving his presentation on the children of Date City, Fukushima at École Normale Superieure in Paris.
Sensuke Shishido giving his presentation on the children of Date City, Fukushima at École Normale Superieure in Paris.

On June 1, 2013, Sensuke Shishido, a former Fukushima elementary school principal, gave a presentation at École Normale Superieure in Paris about the children of Date City and about his thoughts on what is most important in educating children after the 3.11 disaster in Japan.  Date City is about 50 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but has been seriously affected by radiation.

 

Here is an excerpt from his speech.

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     Until the end of March, I was the principal of a small public elementary school in a city about 50 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where huge explosions took place after the big earthquake and tsunami hit Japan's northeast region two years ago.


     It is almost two-and-a-half years since the great earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear accident, but there are still over 100,000 people who are unable to return to their hometown.  At Iitate, a village 30 kilometers from the nuclear plant, the people were told to evacuate the entire village just like the four towns located within 20 kilometers from the plant.  The several governments have completed decontaminating houses and public facilities in the towns and have told the people that it's okay to return.  But even with those words, families with small children are still afraid of the radiation and cannot return.  There are 12 elementary and junior high schools in the coastal region of Fukushima, which cannot resume operation and 35 more, which cannot use their former school buildings.

 

Twelve days after the earthquake, we had a graduation ceremony at my school in Higashidate. In Japan, schools usually hold graduation ceremonies in gymnasiums because the entire student body attends the ceremony in addition to the parents and people from the community.  Because we were still having aftershocks, we couldn't use the damaged gymnasium.  So we held the ceremony at a place where people can evacuate immediately.  At the ceremony, my message to my students was: "Don't let any kind of disaster defeat you, but keep on walking with your dreams and hopes."  After the ceremony, the graduated students went straight to the place where people who had to flee from their homes were evacuated.  The children went there to try and cheer up those people who left so many things behind.


     The city I live in is Fukushima City, which is about 20 kilometers from Date and is the capital of Fukushima Prefecture.  Even after two years, the radiation dose at the ditch of my house is more than 5μSv/h.  This is much higher than the annual limit of 1mSv per year set by Japan's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.  The Ministry says that it is safe if you're exposed to radiation of less than 1 mSv/year, so the level around my house is pretty high, but even after two years and three months nothing is being done about it.


     In Fukushima City, public facilities that showed high levels of radiation have been decontaminated, but other than that, nothing has really started around my house.  Fukushima city barely distributed a map that shows the radiation levels of the area last April.


     In August 2011, the air dose rates around our school were about 0.8 to 0.9 micro sievert.   Because of this, children could not go outside and play during the first trimester between April and July 2011.  In Date, there are twenty-one elementary schools in total, and in August 2011, every one of those schools had about ten centimeters of the topsoil stripped from the school playgrounds as a way of decontamination.  The radioactive soil was then covered with special plastic sheet and buried underground by digging a hole as large as a swimming pool in the school ground.  Right now, the radiation dose has decreased to anywhere between 0.1 to 0.2 micro sievert.  And it is now the lowest spot in our school district.  Yet, this still did not assure safety, nor give relief to many concerned mothers, and that's the reality we are facing.


     So, since August 2011, when the removal of topsoil was completed, we have had to limit children's outside activity to three hours a day.  And we also couldn't use our swimming pool last year because the neighboring farmers didn't want us to discharge the contaminated pool water.  And after the nuclear accident, we have not been able to conduct activities such as raising animals and plants.  This is a picture showing the decontamination work of school pool at the end of August 2011.  We had to grind several millimeters off the surface of the concrete floor around the pool.  The powdered concrete was put into bags, which gave off very high level of radiation.  Even now, these bags are piled up, covered with special sheet and are left at a corner of the school ground.


     Since the summer of 2011, parents have become worried, not only about external exposure but also about internal exposure.  This means they've become more concerned over the ingredients used for school lunches.  Parents who didn't want their children to eat school lunch made boxed lunches for their children.  On March 27 of the last year, every student in our school was tested for internal exposure using whole body counter.  The results showed that the students were at a level where there is no need to worry.  But the media continued to feed information that man-made cesium can easily accumulate inside the human body and bones.  Because of this, there are still many female high school students who worry that they may not be able to get married or have children in the future, but cannot talk to their mothers who have decided to stay and live in Fukushima or Date.


     This is a picture of a group of children walking to school on a very hot day in August 2011.  Since it was so hot, they no longer wore long sleeved shirts, but were still wearing masks, looking weary and spiritless.  You can see the so-called "glass badge," which is the individual dosimeter, dangling from their necks.  One morning, I was standing by the school gate to welcome the children to school and saw a boy who wasn't wearing the glass badge, so I asked him "where is your glass badge this morning?"   The boy suddenly realized he left it at home, (in our school, we don't let students go back home to get items they forgot for safety reasons) so I told him that it would be okay for him to leave it off for one day.   But he said, "I don't want mom and dad to worry, so I'm going back home to get it" and ran back.   I still can't forget the boy's eyes, looking so serious and his voice that sounded so desperate.  These children, the smaller they are, they try to do their best to adjust to the environment they live in, even though it may be a full of limits.


     Two years ago at the end of May, when we took our students to an outdoors school at Aizu children's nature center, which is 100km away from our school, we had a field activity on the last day.   The last assignment before the final goal, where I was waiting, was to "lay down on the grass and roll down the gentle slope."  The first group of children that reached that assignment point came to me with a puzzled look and said, "Can we really lay down on the grass? Is it really okay to roll down on or our bodies?"  When I told them, "We're really far from the nuclear plant so it's okay.  Don't worry, it's okay to roll down as much as you want," the children said, "Really!? That's great!" and they all started rolling down over and over again.  They were all screaming with joy as they rolled down the slope.  That was the time when I truly realized for the first time, how much these children were holding back everyday.  Each and every one of these children who live and go to school in areas where the radiation is still high are in distress and their small hearts have been broken.  And even in this disastrous situation, they are doing their best to live everyday, thinking about their families rather than to complain about the limits posed onto them.


     But, many parents who have small children are still wondering whether the air dose rate set by Japan's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology or the government of Fukushima is really safe. When I started working at Tomino elementary school, which is the last school I worked for before my retirement, the first thing I did was to let children have their own dreams and hopes as big as possible.


     "Koinobori" is the colorful carp banner we put up to celebrate the children's day on May 5. 

In the video, which I am about to show you, you will see a Koinobori that is covered with messages of encouragement written by the children of ethnic minorities living in Vietnam and Laos.  The video itself is about another Koinobori that is covered with messages and words of thanks and vows for recovery written by the children of Tomino school, which was sent to Vietnam and Laos as return for their words of encouragement.  Last year in early February, I took the Koinobori and attended an international conference between the leaders of NGOs based in Southeast Asia, and gave a presentation on the children of Fukushima and Date.  Japan's Prime Minister Abe and his wife also wrote a message on the Koinobori.  The Koinobori traveled to Vietnam and Laos and returned to Japan in early May.


     There were 7 countries: Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and the U.S. that participated in the international conference.  The representative of a Laotian NGO also visited our school to encourage the children and left a very important message, which said: "The important thing is being valuable to others than studying."  From then on, the children and teachers started to work together and think of how even children can work for other people.  This picture shows some students visiting a nursing home for the elderly to sing and do a play.  One girl said, "an old lady whom I shook hands with asked me many times to come back and she wouldn't let go of my hand.  I was so glad."


     The children of the schools I worked for are doing well even though the areas are still affected by radiation.  They are filled with "hopes and dreams."  And they are saying, "I will become the kind of person who will be valuable to others."  Please take a look at another picture of students from my school.   Along with this picture, which was printed in a newspaper in July 22 last year, there is also a message from our children: "With all the kindness and encouragements sent from all over Japan and the world, we are recovering our strength.  In hope that one day, we will be able to show our feeling of gratitude, we will continue to do our best in sports and academics, in order to become adults who will work for Japan and the world."  We have a project called One-coin School Project, which I mentioned earlier.  It is a project to help build schools for the children of minorities living in the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia.   The summit of junior high school student council of Iwaki City, Fukushima and elementary school students from Fukuroi-city of Shizuoka-prefecture have started working on the project. This is good example of what we can do in return for the kindness and encouragements the Fukushima children received and I think this is a wonderful project.

 

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The lecture note was provided by Mr. Shihisdo.

 

 

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