TOMODACHI Aloha Leadership Program Reconnects with Tohoku
Four students ages 12-20, returned to Hawaii on June 28 after spending one week in the Tohoku region of Japan as delegates of the 2016 TOMODACHI Aloha Leadership Program (TALP). As the fourth TALP delegation, the students were extremely appreciative of the opportunity to reunite with friends they had made through Rainbow For Japan Kids (RFJK), another program partially sponsored by the TOMODACHI Initiative, which brings students affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami to Hawaii for mental and physical recuperation and the chance to learn about Hawaii’s unique culture. After hearing RFJK participants’ tragic stories of loss and hardship while in Hawaii, the 2016 TALP trip gave the four delegates the opportunity to see for themselves the revitalization efforts currently taking place in the Tohoku region.
The delegates had a packed schedule where they met many inspirational people and explore many of the affected parts of the Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima prefectures. They spent three days traveling around Shiogama, Matsushima, Onagawa, and Karakuwa Peninsula. The group described feeling humbled by the photos and video footage they were shown from the tsunami, and the inspirational stories they heard from survivors. They also visited Otsuchi Collaboration school where the delegates were provided with an abundance of fun games and activities, including a scavenger hunt. To show their appreciation through the “Aloha Spirit,” the Hawaii delegates taught their Japanese peers Hawaiian music, along with simple hula hand-motions; together, the students from both countries sang, danced, and built friendships.
At a junior high school and temporary housing in Ofunato, the group was amazed by the students’ abilities to “[smile] despite going through so much these past few years.” After hearing a presentation by the school principal about the evacuation procedures and enjoying a collection of songs performed by the students, they visited the local temporary housing units and worked with Move 4 Japan to prepare and serve yakisoba meals to members of the 38 households in residence. Even five years after the earthquake and tsunami, they discovered, many still have no choice but to live in temporary housing.
One of the major events during the program was the beach cleanup in Minami Sanriku. They continued the work done by locals and previous TALP delegations in cleaning the beach, and heard powerful stories from survivors about the terrifying evacuation process five years ago. Later that day, the delegates joined fellow RFJK students from Japan at Kamiwarizaki Camp, and enjoyed dinner and a night of fireworks.
They spent their final day in Shinchi, a town in Fukushima prefecture. The town’s Vice Mayor greeted the group and they learned about housing projects currently in development. On the final night, RFJK members from around the region joined the 2016 TALP delegates for a farewell party.
No matter where they visited in Japan, the TALP delegates were greeted with warms smiles and positive attitudes, and did their best to share aloha with these survivors. The opportunities provided by this trip—to reconnect with old friends, to hear stories from survivors, to see firsthand the damage they heard about, and to aid recovery efforts in the Tohoku region—has had a fantastic impact on the delegates, in ways many of which they may not yet understand. Delegates constantly expressed feeling touched, moved, and inspired by the strength of their Japanese friends, and have applied this to their own lives, expressing the need to appreciate their family, friends, and homes.