Support to the House for Children

Project location: Japan, Ichinoseki
Project start date: May 2011 - Project end date: May 2011
Project number: 2011-02
Beneficiary: Malteser International

On 11 March 2011, the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami hitting Japan's north-eastern coast, Malteser International knew that the Japanese people were going to need a great deal of help and made a commitment to assist the rehabilitation efforts in the Country. Drawing on decades of experience in disaster relief, Malteser International concluded that the best course of action would be to provide help through partners on site; Japan, as a highly developed Country, is able to support relief efforts both in terms of personnel and logistics. Therefore, Malteser International decided to collaborate with local partners such as Caritas Japan (via Caritas in Germany and Austria) and the Franciscans, providing financial support so that reconstruction and rehabilitation projects can be carried out.

Through its first partnership in Japan, Malteser International supports a home for children and youth from two to 18 years of age in the small city of Ichinoseki. Located in the Iwate prefecture, Ichinoseki lies almost 100 kilometres north of the coastal region around Sendai, which was heavily destroyed by the tsunami, and is 150 kilometers away from Fukushima, site of a severely damaged and highly unstable nuclear power plant. The earthquake did some heavy damage to the children's home so much so that a simple renovation will not be enough: the house must be entirely rebuilt.
The children's home provides food, shelter, health care and education to about 60 children. On the day of the earthquake, the children and caretakers had to flee the home and seek refuge in a gymnasium, where they stayed for the entire week. Children were very afraid of the constant aftershocks that have followed - some of them cried, trembled, or hided under tables. Most of them still sleep in their daytime clothes, so they can run away quickly when there's an aftershock. In the beginning, they had no water or electricity; food, petrol and heating oil were very scarce. Children had to withstand freezing temperatures at night without heating, and were exhausted due to limited space, lack of privacy, fear, anxiety and stress. These traumatic experiences added to the children's already difficult past: almost 50 percent of children and youth who live in the house have been abused (physically or mentally) or neglected; another 30 percent are children of single mothers who are mentally ill and are not able to care for them; seven percent are actual orphans, and the remaining children come from extremely poor families. That is why it was so important that these children received special attention and psychosocial care. A psychotherapist in the house is offering regular counseling and conversation therapy sessions to children and youth.

The director of the children's house, Sister Caelina Mauer, is a German nun of the Franciscan order who has lived in Japan for the past 19 years. Since the earthquake, she has been taking care that children have enough to eat and were keeping warm. She sometimes receives donations of food items from the neighbors, such as rice and vegetables. However, since many children have lost their parents in the earthquake and tsunami, the home will be receiving more children who must be cared for, straining already limited resources. To complicate matters more, some of the home's workers must be sent to work at other children's homes in the prefecture which have also been affected by the earthquake and tsunami. As a consequence, the home lacks enough caretakers to look after the children, purchase food and help Sister Caelina with the daily chores in these difficult times.
Initially, Malteser International has given Sister Caelina a donation from its emergency funds for the children's home. The money helped supply the basic needs of the 60 children and 31 staff members, depending on the availability of products and services. Basic repairs to the house were being made so that the residents could at least stay there temporarily, but the house is still in very bad conditions: walls have cracks, windows have been destroyed and ceiling panels have come loose. It will be necessary to build a new, earthquake-resistant home.

Together with Caritas Austria and with the support of other donors, one of which is the Nando Peretti Foundation, Malteser International agreed to support the reconstruction of the house, whose total cost has been estimated at around five million Euros. The construction of temporary shelters will not be necessary, as the children and workers will live in one half of the house while the other half is being built.

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