Despite wearing wet weather gear, layers of warm clothing, thick socks and gloves, today is the coldest I’ve been in years. To get to children and their families we have traipsed through the thick mud and sludge, climbed over mountains of tsunami debris, and travelled many miles up Japan’s far-north east coast.
Before I am accused of carping on about how cold it is, let me make one thing clear. I’m drawing attention to the freezing temperatures here to make the point that children with no option but to shelter in schools and hospitals have been forced to seek warmth from tiny kerosene lamps. I know this because I witnessed it today in Ishinomaki, a city in Miyagi Prefecture, in north-eastern Japan.
I found Asato, 8, and Karen, 6, as well as parents Koichi and Rumi huddled in a second floor classroom of a primary school with only a few blankets and a stove to keep them warm. Through the single pane windows I could see thick snow falling. It was a bitterly cold day, but how cold it got at night in this draughty classroom is anybody’s guess.
In the same classroom I met Riku, 12, a most articulate and confident young man who moved me with his kind words for other children affected by the earthquake and tsunami. As we sat together in the classroom he began to tell me how important it was that the world did not forget the children of Japan, and that people should send help. But he made a special point of saying and I quote him, “There are children worse off than me. Help them first. They need the help more than me.”
I had to choke back the tears.