Balloon Dogs Aid Children’s Recovery

Amy richmond

Amy Richmond, Child Protection Specialist, Save the Children

Tokyo, Japan

Monday, April 11, 2011

I arrived in Japan more than a week ago to work with our Child Protection Team in the northeast of Japan. The team is working tirelessly to reach children who have lost everything in the tsunami. 

Our main concern is the physical safety of children and their well-being after experiencing such an event – with tens of thousands of children living in evacuation centers after the tsunami with no place to play our top priority is to give them a space to just be children. 

One of our immediate response interventions was setting up Child Friendly Spaces within the evacuation centers – offering children a safe place to play in order to continue to learn and develop after the disaster.

I visited one of our Child Friendly Spaces right outside Ishinomaki this week where the children were making balloon animals.

Two young girls had twisted their balloons into little dogs and shared these with me with such delight as they giggled out the word ‘dog,’ in English.  When I responded with a smile and nod signaling they had the word correct, we laughed as they repeated the word in song while their dogs did a little dance. 

It was a happier moment than the day before, when a young boy in our Child Friendly Space had drawn a picture of his pet, one of our Child Friendly Space volunteers asked him who he was drawing and he replied it was his dog but he didn’t know where he was. It was a reminder of the huge loss children had faced – but now we see children are beginning to reflect and deal with what they have gone through. 

It will be a long recovery. 

We hope to continuously engage children within the Child Friendly Spaces with activities held by trained volunteers that allow children to express themselves freely to help with this process.

Child Friendly Space activities also offer a routine and structure to the daily lives of children living in evacuation centers which helps create some sense of normalcy while their environment is constantly changing. 

This builds on the natural resilience of children at the same time helping them identify positive coping strategies through interacting with other children. 


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In Evacuation Center, Young Mother Worries about Her Baby’s Health

Awander Andrew Wander, Save the Children Media Manager

Minimisanriku, Japan

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

After 10 days living in the evacuation center, with little hygiene and few supplies, Michiko Takahashi worries about the health of her 1-year-old baby girl, Mion. I transcribed her story with the assistance of a translator. 

“On the day of the earthquake, I had been at the doctor with my daughter. I’d just returned home and was changing her diaper when the earthquake struck.

“The house was really shaking hard, and I thought it would be safer outside. Normally I’d have stayed inside, because that’s what we’re taught to do, but the ground was shaking so hard that I thought I’d be safer outside. So I ran out with the baby, without even time to put on a new diaper. 

IMG_7247 Michiko, 22, holds her daughter Mion, 1, in the evacuation center they have lived in since being made homeless by a tsunami in Minimisanriku.
Photo Credit: Andrew Wander – Save the Children

“I was about to go back into the house to get some things, when I heard the tsunami siren ringing. My mother shouted at me not to go into the house, and we started running to higher ground. 

“I now know that my house was completely destroyed, and we’ve lost everything.

I have only the clothes I was wearing, but Mion was given some baby clothes yesterday.

“Life in evacuation center is very hard. We’ve been here for 10 days, and I’m very concerned about my baby’s health. For the first nine days, we had no hygiene supplies given to us at all. Yesterday, we got three baby wipes (not packets, but individual sheets) and a couple of cans of milk.

There’s nothing to sterilize the baby’s bottle with, and I haven’t washed my hands for days. I tried to go to the city to buy some supplies, but there is nothing in the shops. 

"I’m very worried about my daughter, especially because she suffers from poor health. Even before the disaster, she’d been going to the hospital twice a month, and there’s no telling when we’re going to be able to go again.

“Mion is also very shy, and it’s really upsetting her living here, with so many people around all the time. We have no idea when we will leave here, or where we will go. Everything has changed.


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His Sister Lost to the Tsunami, Boy Clings to His Mother, Longing for a Place to Call Home

Iwoolverton Ian Woolverton, Save the Children Media Manager

Ishinomaki, Japan

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seina, 9, shelters with his mother, Yuriko, in the sports hall of a junior high school not far from Ishinomaki, where up to 15,000 people died. Sadly, his older sister is among the dead, washed away by the tsunami.   

Seina has been living at this evacuation center for nine days, and really wants to go home. “I sleep here on a mattress inside this hall. My older sister has been lost to the tsunami. Now it’s just me and mom left,” Seina says, wiping tears from his eyes. 

Yuriko_Seina_Ishinomaki_JapanSeina and his mother Yuriko at the evacuation center where they have been living since the tsunami
Photo Credit: Ian Woolverton – Save the Children

I really want to go home. In here, I play cards and read books with other children, but I would really like to play computer games.” But Seina cannot go home, or play his computer games. His home, and everything in it, was destroyed by the tsunami.

The one thing I’m really worried about,” Seina says, “is what’s going to happen to us, and can we get enough money together to have a new house and have a life. The biggest thing that we want, and the biggest thing that we need, is to have a house and to live safe.” 

Apart from wanting a place to call home, Seina would like to have a bath. “We have water, but we cannot have a bath. I really would like a bath.” 

With nowhere else to go, Seina and his mother Yuriko will have to spend weeks in the evacuation center. Despite the dreadful events in his life, Seina is grateful for one thing. “I feel very safe being with my mom. I am really glad that she is here with me.”


Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

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Child Friendly Spaces – A Primer

Dhheadshot Dave Hartman, Save the Children, Internet Marketing and Communications Specialist

Westport, CT

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If you've been following our social media updates or watching news coverage of the disasters in Japan you may have heard that we've set up "Child Friendly Spaces."

While the term is somewhat self-explanatory we thought it'd be nice to give you a quick crash course so you can understand precisely what kind of work we are doing in Japan, and in other disaster or conflict-affected areas for that matter.

CFS_003_85313 Yasu, age 10, playing in a Child Friendly Space inside an evacuation center in Sendai, Japan.
Photo by Jensen Walker/Getty Images for Save the Children

 While the spaces have slight variations depending on the country there are a few basic tenets that remain the same.

The spaces are always a clearly designated area in a shelter. In some cases this will be a classroom in a school or specific tent while in others it will simply be a roped-off section of a room. 

The areas are monitored by specially trained Save the Children staff and local volunteers who lead activities for the children. Activities are culturally relevant and something the children are familiar with, in Japan children have been making origami crafts while in other countries children may play tug-of-war or sing songs and dance. 

RO.KGZ.2010.09.206_82243Children form a train at a Save the Children Child Friendly Space in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
Photo Credit: Rodrigo Ordonez

Our staff is trained to identify children who may be particularly vulnerable by the incident. The staff and volunteers try to ensure that children with disabilities, those who come from different ethnic or gender groups are involved in the activities and that everything is age and gender appropriate. Local volunteers are also continually trained throughout the time that we run CFS so that they are better able to help organize more interactive activities and help prepare children to return to school, once they reopen.

RO.KGZ.2010.09.183_80971A boy participates in a sack race at the Save the Children Child Friendly Space in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
Photo Credit: Rodrigo Ordonez

As Mike Penrose, Save the Children Australia's Director of Emergency Response, explains Child Friendly Spaces have benefits for both parents and children.

"They enable parents to have time to register for emergency assistance and start to re-establish their lives while simultaneously providing children with a sense of normality and community when their lives are disrupted by disasters."


Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

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Taking Shelter after the Tsunami

Ishinomaki, Japan

Friday, March 18, 2011

Karen, age 6, huddles together with her family in a classroom at a primary school in Ishinomaki, Japan. They have only a few blankets and a small kerosene stove for warmth. “We have been here since Friday. It’s cold and I want a bath,” says Karen.

Karen’s father, Koichi, explained that the family took shelter in the classroom when the tsunami destroyed their home. “The whole house is a mess. All dishes are broken. Everything around the house is flooded.”


Photo by Jensen Walker/Getty Images for Save the Children

Karen has not seen her house since the tsunami. Her mother says, “I don’t want to show my children what has happened to our home. I am afraid of how they might feel.”

All Karen wants is a chance to go home and see her friends again. “I miss my home and I miss my friends, she says. Her brother, Asato, age 8, also wants to go home. “I want to play my games, but maybe I won’t be able to anymore,” he says with a sigh.

Koichi and his wife Rumi find it difficult to keep their children occupied all day long in the small classroom, so they sometimes venture outside for a walk. “We have to get out of the classroom, but it is very cold outside and it is snowing a lot."


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Child Friendly Space Brings Smiles to the Faces of Anxious Children

Stephen_McDonald Stephen McDonald, Save the Children Senior Emergency Adviser

Tokyo, Japan

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We have finally commenced our operation in Sendai, after a ten-hour overnight trek, some rapid assessments, and agreement with one of the evacuation centers to set up our first Child Friendly Space in Nanagou.  

When we were there yesterday, the children were tired, anxious and stressed. There weren’t many smiles, with some of them quietly following their parents around, others sitting in the stairwells, and a few young boys running up and down the corridors of what last week was their primary school.  

Letters and messages are posted on the walls, some to tell people that the author was safe, others, sadly, asking if people had seen relatives or friends. With our Child Friendly Space established, the first group of children came in to start activities like drawing and colouring with our enthusiastic and committed Japanese staff.  

It didn’t take long for the first smiles to break out, smiles that hadn’t been there the day before when we came to assess the situation. At the same time I had sent a team some 40miles north of Sendai to the town of Ishinomaki, where they found a scene of utter devastation. Ian Woolverton, my close colleague and friend who went with the team called me and said, “We’ve got to get up here. The needs of the children are massive.” 

I asked him to get as much information as he could, but he went one step further, and got some good intel for me about the possibility of setting up some Child Friendly Spaces. I hope to get up there tomorrow or the next day to get it set up. We face multiple challenges here. We are faced with fuel, food and water shortages. So it is tremendously difficult to establish supply lines, especially since staff are fatigued and stressed.  

This emergency is proving much more complex than I thought when I left home, giving my wife and two sleeping children a kiss goodbye, and heading to the airport only six hours after the quake struck. Add to this the anxiety amongst the population and our staff about the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor, and this is proving to be one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever undertaken.  

Despite these frustrations, the long days, and the yearning to be home with my own children there is one thing I can say about today. We put smiles on the faces of 33 children. That’s what I love about this job. 


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How to Help Children Cope with the Emergency in Japan: Ten Tips from Save the Children

CMac Charles MacCormack, Save the Children president and CEO 

Westport, Connecticut

March 17, 2011

The dramatic images of the past week impact children not only in the immediate area where the destruction has taken place but also children throughout the country, and world, who are watching the images on television. 

Concerned about the emotional well-being of their children, many parents, teachers, grandparents and caregivers are looking for advice on how to respond to questions from children about unsettling and upsetting events that continue to be shown in the media about the disaster and the impact on homes, families and neighborhoods.  

Children often ask the adults in their lives to explain what they are seeing and reassure them about what will happen next: "Will everything be OK? Why is this happening? What will happen to the children who have lost so much?"

 How do we respond to these questions? 

Following 9/11 – and again after Hurricane Katrina – Save the Children prepared the following 10 tips to help adults support children through times of crisis. These tips are based upon Save the Children's years of national and international experience and can be used as a guide for adults to support children through this current crisis. The relevancy of different tips may vary upon issues such as a child's previous experience, age and where he or she lives in the world. 

1.Limit television time for children.  While it is important to parents and adults to stay informed, the images and messages being transmitted may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching television reports on disasters may overwhelm younger children. They may not understand that the tape of an event is being replayed, and instead think the disaster is happening over and over again. Overexposure to coverage of the events affects teenagers and adults as well. Television limits should be set for both you and your children. 

2.Listen to your children carefully. Before responding, get a clear picture of what it is that they understand and what is leading to their questions. Emotional stress results in part when a child cannot give meaning to dangerous experiences. Find out what he or she understands about what has happened. Their knowledge will be determined by their age and their previous exposure to such events. Begin a dialog to help them gain a basic understanding that is appropriate for their age and responds to their underlying concerns. 

3.Give children reassurance and psychological first-aid. Assure them about all that is being done to protect children who have been directly affected by this crisis. Take this opportunity to let them know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary concern will be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected.

4.Be alert for significant changes. Parents should be alert to any significant changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, concentration, wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints without apparent illness. If present, these will likely subside within a short time. If prolonged, however, we encourage you to seek professional support and counseling. For children directly affected by this crisis – such as children who have lost a loved one – parents should consult their pediatrician or family doctor and consider counseling, not just for the child, but also for the entire family. It may be an important preventative measure. But other children also may be affected by the images they see and stories they hear. 

5.Expect the unexpected. Not every child will experience these events in the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional capacities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events, while older children and teenagers will get information from a variety of sources that may not be as reliable. Understand that older teenagers, because of their greater capacity for understanding, may be more affected by these stories. While teenagers seem to have more adult capacities to recover, they still need extra love, understanding and support to process these events. 

6.Give your children extra time and attention. They need your close, personal involvement to comprehend that they are safe and secure. Talk, play and, most important, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities for children of all ages. Read bedtime stories and sing songs to help younger children fall asleep. 

7.Be a model for your child. Your child will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you deal with them. Base the amount of self-disclosure on the age and developmental level of each of your children. Explain your feelings but remember to do so calmly. 

8.Watch your own behavior. Make a point of showing sensitivity toward those impacted by the disaster. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other. 

9.Help your children return to normal activities. Children almost always benefit from activity, goal orientation and sociability. Ensure that your child's school environment is also returning to normal patterns and not spending great amounts of time discussing the crisis.  

10.Encourage your child to do volunteer work. Helping others can give your child a sense of control, security and empathy. Indeed, in the midst of crisis, adolescents and youth can emerge as active agents of positive change. Encourage your children to help support local charities that assist children in need.

Save the Children urges adults to seek out and follow the guidance of Emergency Management and Public Health Officials to help ensure the safety of their children.


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Japanese Respond to Disaster With Quiet Determination

Awander Andrew Wander, Save the Children Media Manager

Tokyo, Japan

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The aftershocks come so often in Tokyo that no-one at Save the Children's office pays them much attention anymore. They usually start with an alarm on the television, giving a few seconds warning before the floor begins to judder, sometimes building in strength, sometimes fading away to stillness. It feels a bit like being on a boat, only on the fourth floor of an office block in the middle of a city.

If it's a particularly strong tremor, there might be some nervous smiles exchanged- we all know that another powerful quake remains a very real possibility. But there is urgent work to be done, and the atmosphere of quiet focus returns as soon as the ground stills beneath our feet.

It's the same with concerns over the nuclear reactor to the north of here. We all know there is a chance that the situation will deteriorate and radiation levels will rise. There's scant reassurance to be drawn from the apocalyptic headlines in the international media, and the team are working with one eye on the latest radiation readings announced on the rolling news coverage.

But short of making contingency plans, there's not much we can do about it. For now, levels of radiation are safe in the places we're working, and unless they rise, there is no reason for us to change what we're doing. In the meantime, a lot is getting done. As part of a team of international staff here in Tokyo, I'm watching the quiet determination of the dozens of Japanese staff members turn into results in the field.

Since the quake struck on Friday, Save the Children has made serious progress in our response. Our first child friendly space opened in Sendai on Wednesday, and the team there are looking to scale up their operations as soon as possible.

More spaces should be opening in evacuation centres across the affected area in the next few days, making a big difference to some of the 100,000 children caught up in this emergency.

That couldn't happen without our staff in Tokyo working around the clock to support our teams in the field, purchasing supplies, planning logistics, producing communications material and working with the media. The challenge is enormous, but the people here are meeting it.

We knew as soon as we saw the pictures coming out of Japan last Friday that this would not be simple. Events over the past few days have proven us right. But there is no doubt we are making progress, despite the constant growls of the earth and the ever-present spectre of the radiation.

There is a sense that our Japanese staff are drawing inspiration from each other's commitment, and in so doing, are helping their country take the first tentative steps towards recovery from one of the greatest disasters in its long, proud history.


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Witnessing Decimated Sendai

Iwoolverton Ian Woolverton, Save the Children Media Manager

Sendai, Japan

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The clock in the vehicle says it's 5:44am, as we pass through a police road block approximately 25 miles from Sendai, the city of more than one million people affected by the tsunami and earthquake.

Even though the roads were empty, it took ten hours to drive this far north from Toyko.

We're in a two vehicle convoy stuffed to the gills with basic essentials such as water, food and toilet paper as well as one van brimming with enough gear to set up a child friendly space.

As the sun starts its slow rise, I make out mountainous silhouettes on either side of the road. The outside temperature is close to freezing and there is thick grey fog. Apart from the cold it is a beautiful place.

I wonder though what unsettling sites await us in the coastal areas of Sendai?

Fact is this is my first experience of a disaster in a developed country, and I can't quiet get to grips with the fact that there is mass devastation ahead.

I'm even more perplexed as we pull into the city. Apart from a large group of Japanese engineers in dark blue uniforms and white hard hats congregated in one ultra-modern office block, there are no clues that a major earthquake occurred here last week.

It's not until you leave the city limits and head north-east that the extent of the tsunami damage, triggered by the earthquake, becomes clear.

Entire fields are full of debris including corrugated iron, furniture, toys, up-turned cars as well as a bewildering array of bits and pieces. It's possible too that human bodies are buried somewhere beneath the rubble.

SENDAI_012_85101Save the Children team leader Stephen McDonald surveys the aftermath of the the earthquake triggered tsunami which devastated Sendai, Japan.
(Photo by Jensen Walker/ Getty Images for Save the Children)

The scenes of devastation here remind me of what I witnessed all over Aceh Province following the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.

It's horrible to think that children might have been killed in the tsunami, or that some of them might have become separated from their families during the earthquake and disaster.

Over the coming weeks and months in Japan, Save the Children will provide psycho-social support to children in the form of child friendly spaces.


Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

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Japanese Family Huddles in Emergency Shelter

Iwoolverton Ian Woolverton, Save the Children Media Manager

Tokyo, Japan

Monday, March 14, 2011

Save the Children's Ian Woolverton reports from Japan where he is one of several staff spearheading our relief efforts. Ian met the Takane family, who are among the thousands of families displaced by the tragic disasters in recent days. Here he shares their touching story.

Yuto Takane, 8, and his mother Mariko, siblings Aiki, 7, Kanato, 1, and newborn Amihi have sought shelter at IIzuka Primary School in Asahi City. They were made homeless by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Honshu, Japan's most densely populated island, on Friday.

YUTO_AIKI_AMIHI_KANATO_85039Yuto, Aiki and Kanato pose for the camera.
Photo Credit: Ian Wolverton

Forced to live on a classroom floor Yuto is missing his home and his friends. "I would like to be with my friends in school. I like sports and playing soccer."

"I have been living in the classroom and want to go home."

His mother Mariko is anxious for the family to return home, but there is no water supply at their house, so she cannot bathe the children.

"The problem is the water. All the water is gone, so everything is very dirty."

She is also anxious because her eldest children cannot sleep. "Before the earthquake they never minded, but now they cannot sleep."

Mariko says her children are restless and have nothing to do in the school. "They needs books, toys and DVDs to keep them happy."

Yuto's sister Aika says she would like to play but does not know whether she should since everyone is afraid. "At the weekend we play, but today we can't because everyone is sad."

Save the Children plans to establish Child Friendly Spaces in earthquake and tsunami affected areas to give children a safe place to play with their friends, while allowing parents to focus on other priorities such as registering for emergency assistance.


Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

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