Monday, February 3, 2014

Visiting Aiseien in 2014

Hello Everyone!

This is Arisa, last year's Friends of Fukushima SF's Noodles for Nippon Chair.

On February 1st, 2014 I finally got a chance to visit the completed homes at the Horikawa Aiseien Children's Home.

the view outside one of the homes, overlooking Tanagura Town

I was initially startled and absolutely amazed by the sight of the larger, sturdier looking new homes on the familiar grounds!

walking between all the new homes

The wooden architecture was chosen for its warm and natural touch, providing the children with a safe and comfortable feeling environment.

Unfortunately, making the homes larger also meant making the open space where kids once played baseball, jumprope, tag and other games smaller. Luckily, the Homes have been able to work with the town to borrow the old local high school's fields for the kids to use.

large windows allow for natural sunlight and heat to come in

I asked the teachers what their favorite thing about the new homes was, and many of them were quick to reply, "They're warm!" (Fukushima's daily high temp averages 44F in February)

bathroom and sink area upstairs

One of the girls I've known since my internship in Summer 2009 was very eager to show me around her new home --- especially her bedroom. Her side of the room she shared with one other girl was filled with her favorite photos, posters of celebrities, and drawings. The new bedrooms have been designed to give each child a bit more personal space. To me, this seemed to give them more opportunities to express themselves as an individual, regardless of the fact that they live with so many other children. One of the teachers also observed that the children clash with each other less often when they have personal space they can retreat back to as necessary.

open kitchen has the living room, dining room and tatami room all in view

One home mother also commented that she likes the open kitchen, which allows her to stay in communication with the children while she prepares dinner.

In an effort to move towards smaller scale group homes that can act as a single unit like typical family homes, children take baths and showers in the bathrooms that were newly installed in each house as opposed to the single large communal bath they used to use. They also have video games in each house as opposed to just the large gymnasium --- something the children were very happy to report.

the large center hall that offers meeting space and a large kitchen
inside the center hall, where meetings are held

Horikawa Aiseien has also begun offering child rearing seminars and counseling for families with children in general, not just for those with preexisting issues. Offering community support before issues such as abuse and neglect occur acts as a preventative measure. This is especially important as changes in jobs, living conditions, and financial stability triggered by the 3.11 Earthquake continue to put a strain on families --- a state that can lead to children becoming the victims.

the family support home, where families visiting their children can stay
here, families can practice living with each other again

The staff also showed me around the Family Support Home, a new concept. As children are coming from more and more complicated backgrounds as to why they can no longer live with their families, it becomes increasingly important that families are given thorough counseling and support as they work towards re-creating a happy and healthy family life. The Family Support Home offers these families space to practice living with each other again while ample support is right next door.

In addition, the earthquake has relocated a number of the children's families further away to places like Aomori and Tokyo, making visitations difficult without being able to spend a night in the area. The Family Support Home offers such space, so family members can spend quality, un-rushed time while visiting their children.

the construction plans for the new homes on display

As I took photos of the new homes, the girl who was showing me around asked me why I was doing it. I told her, "My friends did an udon sale for Aiseien, so I want to show them how the new homes turned out." She had a look of amazement on her face as she responded, "Wow, your friends are so nice!" I'm guessing this new piece of information left an impact on her, because as I was leaving, she waved to me with a big smile as she yelled from across the grounds, "I hope your friends have another udon sale and send money to Aiseien again!" A teacher who overheard gave a slightly embarrassed laugh, but I agreed with the girl wholeheartedly.

As of December 2013, Aiseien has reached 20% of its initial fundraising goal of 125,000,000 yen or approximately $1.2 million at the current exchange rate. Of this amount, almost $6000 was in donations that were collected from the San Francisco Bay Area through Friends of Fukushima. This is great for the first year of raising funds! However, a large amount still remains, and although it is a very low interest rate, loans are loans and will increase the longer they are left unpaid.

Therefore, the members of Friends of Fukushima have decided to pull together once again and hold another Noodles for Nippon fundraiser to benefit the Horikawa Aiseien Children's Home. Once again,  we are excited to see the support coming in, such as the JCCCNC generously donating their kitchen and hall facilities for the cause.

Even though we hardly ever hear anything about the issues in Fukushima and the rest of the Tohoku Region in our daily lives anymore, they still exist and are still very, very real. To the residents of these areas, the issue isn't one they can walk away from and forget like many of us have the luxury of doing once the TVs are off and internet is out of reach.

My hope is that our funds raised will not only help the Homes and children monetarily, but let them know that the San Francisco Bay Area still cares very much about their cause.

This year, some members of the Friends of Fukushima are planning to visit the Horikawa Aiseien Children's Home in May to hand-deliver the funds raised from the 2014 Noodles for Nippon fundraiser and experience the warmth of the Children's Home for themselves. 

Hopefully that will bring another smile to that girl's face. :)