Since 2001, Terakoya Hōjōsha has been serving the educational needs of children in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. We are a nonprofit organization located in the Aizu region of Fukushima, approximately 100 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where a nuclear disaster occurred due to damage caused by The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.
We operate a democratic school that supports children learning outside the classroom. Our students have chosen to study in an environment distinct from traditional public schools. Currently about 30 students commute to our program each day. We use a problem-solving focused educational approach that encourages students to become active participants in their own learning.
Effects from the Disaster
As a result of the Fukushima disaster, about 150,000 parents and children evacuated to areas outside of Fukushima. Some families have since returned, so the number is now closer to 36,000. However, in areas where there is still a high concentration of radiation, there still is not an official estimate of when families can return. While these children have an opportunity to attend public schools nearby their hometowns, many of them have a difficult time adjusting and making friends: one child may suffer from bullying, while another must move far away from where his father works in order to attend a suitable school.
Today, six years after the disaster, every week we still welcome 20 children who were made refugees, providing them with a productive place to learn outside the context of traditional schools. Our main activities are decided during meetings where the children attend. Our philosophy is to encourage dialogue between students and their peers, and students and the staff. This instills a sense that the students themselves have a central role in their upbringing. This in turn fosters a determination to live a life of meaning and purpose. Our staff’s main role is to encourage a process where children strengthen and develop their own core competencies.
The Great East Japan Earthquake not only fragmented relationships important to adults, but also the friendships and close ties critically important to children. For many, it took away the ability for friends to support each other through this crisis. Luckily, these children are slowly making friends in the areas they were evacuated to. Most people living in Fukushima do not lay the blame for problems related to the nuclear accident solely on Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates the plant. Rather, after reflection, many believe they should have been more vigilant so this never would have happened in the first place. In their minds, the root cause was their blind belief in the safety of the plant, a myth with no basis in scientific evidence, nor any real criteria by which they made their decision. Most residents simply believed that the science preached by experts had a strong basis in fact, and was supported by the proper resources to ensure the plant’s safety.
So while experts said that the accident was a result of a tsunami whose magnitude could not have been anticipated, the underlying lesson we learned is: if something unexpected happens, you can expect that an accident like this will occur!
Another thing we’ve learned is that there is a limit to what humans can predict: since March 2011, we have made a point to teach children that it is dangerous to blindly accept what an expert or adult has to say. In other words, we teach the importance of healthy skepticism, and encourage students to carry this lesson into their role as adult citizens.
What Your Donation Supports
It is important for children to confirm and judge for themselves. However until recently, children in Japan have been taught that the most important thing is there is one right answer that they should ‘cough up’ as quickly as possible. However, after the nuclear accident, people began to collaborate on strengthening a type of problem solving that respects the diversity and complexity inherent in each situation.
For long-term residents of Fukushima Prefecture, education has undergone major changes due to the complexity of our particular situation. We have come to understand, out of necessity, that we must see the world from our children’s eyes, i.e. in a relational manner. I am thoroughly convinced that education requires debate, access to information, and adults who also possess this relational perspective that comes naturally to children.
We ask for everyone's donation so that we are able to train even one more person capable of learning with children, helping us achieve a place of learning outside the boundaries of a traditional school.
We are not asking for a donation simply because the accident at Fukushima was so terrible. Your donation nurtures Fukushima’s future human resources, and a new community-driven model based on self-reliance in education and economics. Our goal is to develop citizens who can think and act according their own self-reliant logic, supported by education appropriate for our post-March 2011 world. Six years after the accident, the people of Japan still care about the residents of Fukushima, but the memory of the disaster is slowly fading, making it easier for policymakers to push to restart nuclear power plants and extend the operation of aging power plants idled after the disaster. For general citizens, now is the time to leverage our experiences from the accident to take meaningful social action to strengthen the pillars of our society.
To those numerous people who empathize with the importance of creating meaningful education opportunities outside the domain of Japan’s public education system: now if the time to donate! Over the next five years, our goal is to create 20 more mission-driven educators, and ten new learning places in Fukushima and other areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. In addition, it is my sincere hope that our style of education, shaped by the tragedy of 3.11, can serve as an inspiration across the world. Raising 10 million Japanese Yen (approximately $90,000 US) each year will allow us to achieve this goal.
I truly believe that support and caring from people around the world will play a central role in our educational initiative.
Kazuya Egawa, Director, Terakoya Hōjōsha, a Nonprofit Corporation
Translated by Adam Lobel, Sizung Inc.