Today is the last day of the school year for all of our kids. But it was special for another reason — because it is when our community of elementary kids returned to their neighborhood school after being away for three years. The school had been damaged by the tsunami, and was also used six months after 3/11 as an evacuation center. Post – tsunami, the children would gather each morning in front of the school and ride charter buses up to a temporary school built quickly on the grounds of another school.
Finally, the old school has been fixed up and is ready! Eric and other parents, teachers, and community members have spent several weekends helping to move everything from the temporary school down to this school. I really loved that the sixth graders last week were able to graduate from the school where they started; and that all of our kids were able to day to have a few hours getting a feel for this place that will be their school home. (The next two weeks are spring break; then our children and all those in Japan will begin a new school year in early April).
I have heard from numerous friends and Nozomi moms about the fear and unease that some of their children have had about returning to this school. One mom told me that her daughter had seen dead bodies after the tsunami in the outdoor school pool; Y. told me that she’s already told the school that her daughter will be excused from swimming class this summer.
Yesterday, I talked with a mom who said that her daughter is really worried about what she will see and hear when she returns. When I asked her why, she said that her daughter in this area sees and hears dead people. Particularly in the evening and at night, she hears them whispering to her.
Many of these children fled to this school when the wave was coming; they lived in this freezing school with no toilets or electricity or warmth. We know that the memories associated must be so so difficult.
I decided to walk the kids this morning – they really didn’t even know which gate to enter from, since they had never actually gone to this school. The two older ones ran ahead, so Olivia and I went together. Today was the last day for her to wear that bright yellow hat! All first graders wear it when they commute back and forth to school.
As we turned the bend to the front of the school, we were surprised by the group that awaited us.
About thirty or so members of the community were lined up in formation on either side of the entranceway to the school. As each child walked between them, they cheered and clapped, waving their “welcome back” signs.
And just in front of the school, the principal was there to greet them.
I quickly ducked behind the trees; my emotions got the best of me for a minute. I was so moved by this welcome to all the kids.
Honestly, we don’t know the best way to help these families, especially these children, cope with these things. We can’t imagine what that event and its aftermath was like. But we are really thankful for the privilege of walking with our friends through each of these transitions towards normalcy. And grateful for all those on the sidelines, cheering.