Japanese student tells U.N. how youth are reshaping tsunami-hit areas

Kyodo

A Japanese high school student who survived the 2011 tsunami recounted at the U.N.’s New York headquarters her experiences of the disaster and how young people are playing a critical role in rebuilding her hometown in Miyagi Prefecture.

“We want people to realize the amazing power of teenagers worldwide,” Honoka Miura on Wednesday told a special session of the U.N. General Assembly on water and disasters that was also attended by Crown Prince Naruhito, who made a keynote speech earlier in the day.

After the tsunami “swallowed” her home in Minamisanriku, forcing Miura’s family to move into a shelter for two months, she realized that despite her suffering she could still offer a hand to help others.

“I started to realize that the children at the shelter were unhappy,” the 18-year-old high schooler recalled. “No one was smiling and I realized I have to help them because the adults were afraid.”

Finding the need to help uplift the youngsters, Miura decided to become a “junior leader” at the shelter and began working weekly with them. Ultimately, they put on a concert that provided a welcome reprieve to the devastated town.

Building on that success, Miura then wondered how to harness the power of other teens to “revive” her hard-hit hometown. She did so by holding a workshop and circulating a survey to see how best to use young people’s ideas to reconnect with locals to make positive changes.

One such idea was to build a community cafe, another was to put together a historical display in a library. The ideas caught the attention of the town’s mayor, despite initial resistance from older residents who thought it was “foolish” for the youngsters to assist in the rebuilding.

“The mayor said he would like all junior leaders to help in the reconstruction,” Miura said.

She told the U.N. Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters that she hopes her story will inspire other young people around the world to work together with their communities to make changes using their unique perspectives. “We can see things that others cannot,” Miura said. “Please let us have a try.”

Meanwhile, the Crown Prince, who has been working on water-related issues, said in his keynote address that he aims to draw on past records for lessons on how to deal with future catastrophes.

While addressing rebuilding efforts in areas of northeastern Japan devastated by the 2011 quake-tsunami disasters, he explained how geographical and other natural conditions impact the levels of damage sustained. For example, the Crown Prince pointed to areas severely affected by the tsunami and other locations nearby that were completely untouched.

“The challenge is to integrate the areas that are in totally different conditions within one master recovery plan,” he said.