When I visited Takata High School for the second time six months later, the school was closed due to a flu epidemic. Mr. Kudo, the director of the school, and Ms. Yamaguchi, the home economics teacher, welcomed me into the empty school building.
I said to myself: “How lifeless a school can be, when the students are missing…”
Since my previous visit in October 2011, and together with Mrs.Yamaguchi, I had developed and worked on the Takata High School Fashion and Sewing Project. It is about showing the students the joy of being creative during such a difficult time. Because the students were absent, I gave the fabrics, materials and samples for textile accessories to Mrs.Yamaguchi, and discussed how the workshops could work.
When I entered the director’s room, I saw that he had put portraits of each student who had lost their life in the tsunami in black frames and hung them on the wall.
“When I am tired and on the limit, they tell me not to give up”, he said, while telling me stories about the students on the wall. It was like I had met them personally.
In the evening I met Mr.Tamura, a member of the Board of Education in the Iwate prefecture. Soon after March 11, it was he who had advised me to donate the sewing machines to Takata High School.
He said: “The citizens of the affected areas are facing a much more difficult time now. The attention and support of the public and the media has unfortunately reduced very much, and this loss is extremely perceptible.”
My long coach journey back to the station was filled with sadness.
I looked at the landscape and the citizens, and thought: “Nothing has changed. How hopeless the citizens of Rikutezentakata must feel, if the rebuilding is taking such a long time.”
Then, right away, I started to plan my next journey to Rikuzentakata.
In October 2011 I visited Rikuzentakta for the first time. What was awaiting me there was beyond my imagination.
I thought I was prepared to face the reality of the situation there, because my mother and sister had shared reports with me of their visit for voluntary work soon after March 2011. But when I arrived, I was so shocked. The entire city had been completely destroyed, and an overwhelming and depressing emptiness ruled.
I felt extremely powerless and asked myself:
“Is there anything I can do at all?”
During this visit, I donated five sewing machines to Takata High School, which had been completely damaged by the tsunami and forced to move into a temporary location in a former agricultural school further up the country. This donation was made possible by a wonderful partnership with Bernina International, who generously sponsored the project.
My aims were to show the students the pleasure of being creative during such a difficult time, to encourage them not to give up, and to demonstrate that it is possible to make one’s passion a profession.
At Takata Senior High School, the director, Mr.Kudo, the vice-director, Mr.Funakoshi, and the home economics teacher, Mrs.Yamaguchi, welcomed me warmly.
That day Mr.Kudo said something I have never forgotten:
“Financial and material donations are certainly important. What is much more important is that you don’t forget about the children. Please come and visit us again.”
These words convinced me to visit Rikuzentakata as much as possible and to continue with my commitment.