Japan: two years after the earthquake

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Cologne. Two years after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that changed Japan’s history, efforts to rebuild the regions affected by the disaster continue at a very slow pace. Fortunately, the construction work on the new children’s home Fujinosono is progressing steadily and nearing completion. On 29 June, the home will be inaugurated. The project, led by Malteser International, the Order of Malta’s humanitarian relief agency, aims to become a model for the reconstruction efforts in northern Japan.

The building, located in the town of Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture, will provide a safe home for 45 children and also serve as a barrier-free evacuation center in case of disaster. The new home not only meets the latest standards in terms of child-friendly spaces, but also incorporates a cutting-edge renewable energy system with solar panels and a biomass heating system, making it energy independent and allowing it to run reliably during an emergency.

Ever since their home was heavily damaged by the earthquake on 11 March 2011 and thus made uninhabitable, the children and staff of Fujinosono have been anxiously waiting for a new home. Since December 2011, they have lived in a temporary container shelter on the home’s grounds.

“The children have been following the construction efforts with excitement”, says Sister Caelina Mauer, Fujinosono’s director and a Franciscan nun. “Every day, they see a little bit of progress, and so the construction site is a huge symbol of hope for them”.

The children and youth living at Fujinosono stem, for the most part, from underprivileged families that are not able to care for them; they were often abused or neglected, and many suffer from trauma or other mental disorders, while some are orphans. In the new home, the large dormitories will be replaced by smaller living units, where children and youth of different age groups will live together like in a family; teenagers will have more privacy and a quiet working place. “This should help the children to better cope with their traumas and increase their self-esteem”, Caelina says.

In addition to Malteser International’s own funds and countless private donations, the home counted on the financial support of the international Caritas network as well as several corporate and public donors. Journalists are invited to attend the inauguration festivities on 29 June and participate in a tour of the building to learn more about the project.