East Japan: Libraries for People with Disabilities

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) has been setting up libraries and providing books to facilities for people with disabilities that were struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake in the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate. The libraries greatly help to stabilize the minds of children with disabilities who are likely to have trouble adjusting to the new environment brought about by the earthquake.

 Large-sized picture books have enriched children's emotions – Fukushima

Ever since the large-sized picture books arrived, it has become a valued time for the staff members to read books aloud to the children.  The 'picture book room' in Fukushima supported by AAR Japan.

"Nazuna Home", a day care center operated by the social welfare corporation Iwaki Gospel Association, has been entrusted by Fukushima Prefecture to accommodate the increased number of children with disabilities that have come to live in Iwaki-city following the Great East Japan Earthquake. 18 children have registered so far, and the center also supports their parents who are suffering from the anxiety of childcare and living in an unfamiliar place. AAR Japan helped to create a "Picture Book Room" for this facility last April.

Many of the books in the new Picture Book Room are large-sized picture books. For children with developmental disabilities, larger sized books are easier to understand and, as a result, children who previously didn't like reading have come to show interest in these picture books that are several times the size of their own books at home. The children have been actively involved in reading books and expanding their imagination and creating new stories. The staff members are also pleased, saying that "the children are becoming more and more sensitive to the world around them."

A place where children can feel at ease - Miyagi

Library Takechan-chi (lit. "Take's home") is an important place where children and residents in the community can feel at home.
"Koso Takechan-chi", a non-profit organization located in Tagajo City, is a facility that 250 elementary and junior high school children with disabilities attend after school and during long vacations. Its structure was damaged by the tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the institution was moved to the present location three years ago.  As there are no libraries in the neighborhood, the local people wanted to make the renewed facility a place where children can feel at home.

Therefore, last August, AAR Japan was happy to add a library to the facility and contribute 139 books to get it started.  It is now an essential place for the children to stay.  Speaking about the impact that the library has had on the students, Takechan-chi representative Yukio TAKANO said, "Now that the children have a place where they can read books freely, their emotions seem to be more balanced". The institution is also open to the residents of the community to help enhance their understanding of children with disabilities and is a place where they can get to know each other.

A space to learn about disabilities and to relax among new friends - Iwate

Mr. Nobuyoshi Mitsui (left), the director of Runbinii Art Museum, and visitors who enjoy picture books, and Akiko KATO (right), Manager of the AAR Japan Tohoku Office.
The "Runbinii Art Museum", operated by Korinkai social welfare corporation located in Hanamaki City in Iwate Prefecture, has a permanent exhibition displaying the artwork of people with mental disabilities.  With the support of AAR Japan, in June last year, a library section was set up beside the coffee shop on the first floor of the museum.  Soon after the Great East Japan Earthquake, there were many cases of people with mental disabilities having panic attacks because of their difficulty in adjusting to drastic changes in their living circumstances.  In many cases they were told to permanently leave the evacuation center where many other people lived.

Based on such experiences, the Runbinii Art Museum asked AAR Japan to assist in creating a place where people could cultivate a deeper understanding of others who have mental disabilities so that they are accepted and cared for in times of disaster and stress.  AAR Japan joined the Runbinii Art Museum in this initiative and donated 339 books to the new library section, including books on people with disabilities and picture books by Kenji MIYAZAWA, a novelist from the local area, which are gratefully enjoyed by the visitors.  In addition, the museum has organized some events where visitors can interact with the artists of the exhibited artwork.

The art director of the museum, Mr. Takashi Itagaki, who has been trying to create a space where visitors of the museum and people with disabilities can interact with each other naturally, said that "through the library section, we are now able to provide a joyful place for people with disabilities and for people with children."

AAR Japan is proud to remain committed to support the establishment of libraries and to provide books to institutions that care for people with disabilities in disaster affected areas.

* This activity was conducted with your generous donations as well as support from the Qatar Friend Fund, a charity fund from Qatar with the aim of supporting the reconstruction of the disaster areas of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Sendai Office Yuko OGASAWARA [Reporter]

Since April 2011, Ms Ogasawara has been working in the AAR Japan Sendai Office. Ms Ogasawara herself was affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and joined AAR Japan with the hope to support those who suffered as greatly as she did. Ms Ogasawara is from Miyagi Prefecture and is the mother of two children.“I feel encouraged when I hear people say thank you to me”.
Japanese-English translation by Ms Hiroko HIDA
English editing by Mr Peter BUNGATE

The article on this page has been translated and edited by volunteers as part of the AAR Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.