SENDAI – To help children in Tohoku who lost studying space because of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, a Kyushu-based nonprofit organization is holding free after-school classes at temporary housing complexes in Miyagi Prefecture.
Since the first “terakoya” (temple schools) class was held in June 2011, the program has already attracted more than 200 elementary and junior high school students.
Terakoya were originally private elementary schools in temples that were common in the Edo Period (1603-1867). They taught pupils how to use the abacus, read and write, and essentially resembled today’s cram schools.
The Tohoku terakoya classes were initiated by Rocinantes, an NPO in Kitakyushu that has been providing medical and health care services in Sudan. The classes are held on weekday evenings.
In Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, there’s a terakoya at a housing complex that is open every day, while in Natori, also in Miyagi, peripatetic classes are held by Rocinantes staff at three locations.
On one evening in early August, three elementary school students were sitting in a terakoya class in the Watari housing complex, which has about 470 households.
In a spacious 20-tatami room with tables, the children worked on their summer homework assignments and studied English.
“I love arithmetic and I always get 100 marks (in tests),” said fifth-grader Moe Kataoka, who has been coming to the terakoya for nearly three years.
Kataoka and her family were forced to vacate their severely damaged house after the March 2011 tsunami and move into a temporary housing unit. After finally returning their home following refurbishment work last April, Kataoka but found herself without any friends in the neighborhood because little progress has been made on reconstruction in most parts of the region.
“I can study at home, but here I can see my friends,” she said. “I want to keep coming here.”
The same day, four junior high school students arrived for terakoya later in the evening. Among them was Kurumi Konno, a second-year junior high school student who moved from Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, to Miyagi after the quake.
Konno began attending the terakoya in April to improve her grades, which had dropped because of the stress of being displaced.
“I’m glad that everyone in the group has let me join in, as if we’ve been friends for a long time,” she said. “I want to study here for my high school entrance exams.”
In most of the temporary housing facilities in the northeast, there aren’t enough rooms to provide children with their own space, and many are having a difficult time concentrating on their studies because the walls of the units are so thin that the sounds made by their neighbors come right through.
“We hope the terakoya will not only become a place where children can study, but also a place where they can meet each other and feel secure,” said Saemi Ayata, 28-year-old Rocinantes member who works at the terakoya.