Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Children of Japan

Children are always the most vulnerable in a disaster.

In Japan, more than 100,000 children have been displaced, many separated from their families. Save the Children and other relief organizations are working night and day in the disaster zones and report major concerns about everything from the accessibility of water and food to the emotional stress and trauma being suffered by the children. Many schools are closed meaning the cherished comfort of teachers is not at hand. The love and support teachers can provide to children during difficult times may not be available for a very long time. While Japan is a well‐resourced country, the scale of this disaster would render any region of the world hopeless and defeated.

The staggering tragedy, made even more frightful because of the uncertain extent of radioactivity release, will be borne by the Japanese people for decades to come. But for the children, it will be borne for generations. My parents were born within a decade or two of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and I lived my life in the shadow of that disaster. Not just the drills and the sirens of my youth, but the ever‐present trepidation that another earthquake is around the corner. As much as my parents were of the “depression generation,” even more powerful to our lives was that they were of the “1906 earthquake generation.” For the people of Japan, the reminders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, World War II, and the economic downturn of the last decade all add to the weight of this most recent tragedy.

When something of this magnitude happens, our children are bound to see pictures, hear conversations and have many questions. In this age of instant information, we need to explain things to children. By acknowledging that these things happen, and talking about the ways in which we are prepared to keep them safe, it helps to ease the fear and anxiety a child might possibly be feeling.

As appropriate to the age of the students, our classes have been discussing the situation in Japan and helping the students of Park Day School grapple with their own thoughts and fears about an earthquake. In the Bay Area, we have a greater sensitivity to and empathy for the experience of the Japanese. We have helped the children understand how we are prepared for a disaster, and reminded ourselves of the need for drills and awareness.
We also are mindful of the need for thinking actively as global citizens. This helps children to not only appreciate their own lives, but charity and volunteerism are actual things they can do in face of disaster. Throughout the week we have explored the best ways to respond in support of the victims of the tragedy so far away from us. Organized efforts will be announced as we continue to identify the greatest needs.

As we do so, we remember and hold in our hearts the deep and profound impact that this tragic event will have on the children of Japan now and into the future.

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