|© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2011|
|The UN Secretary–General Ban Ki-moon addresses local high-school students in Fukushima, Japan.|
By Naoko Iwasaki
FUKUSHIMA, Japan, 10 August 2011 – Japanese youth must combine their strengths to help facilitate the nation’s recovery, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told a crowd of high school students this month in Fukushima City, while on a three-day trip to Japan.
Some 100 students from three different high schools gathered in the gymnasium of Fukushima South High School to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Ban. The Japan Committee for UNICEF and the UNICEF Office in Tokyo organized the dialogue as an outlet for the youth to present their views and opinions to the world through the UN chief.
The task of reconstruction
“The United Nations and the world are behind you,” affirmed Mr. Ban, as he opened the discussions by addressing the group in Japanese. “Youth have ideals and energy. The United Nations is founded on ideals and we need your energy,” emphasized the Secretary-General.
Minami Watanabe, 17, used to live 10 km away from Fukushima Daiichi Plant, which is at the centre of Japan’s nuclear crisis. Like many others, she was forced to evacuate her hometown immediately after the tsunami of March 11. After spending several weeks at an evacuation centre, she now stays in Fukushima City with her family.
Thanks to a local arrangement, she has been attending satellite classes since May. Acknowledging the outpouring support from inside and outside Japan, Minami said, “I may not be able to go back home where I have lived for 17 years, but I promise to myself to become a strong person who will never be defeated by any adversity.”
Representing Fukushima South High School, Chinatsu Ogu, 18, highlighted the need for support and guidance in order to overcome the challenges that lay ahead. “Fukushima’s problems are no longer solely a local matter,” she said. “The formidable task of reconstruction will surely have a great influence on future policies of Japan and the world.”
UNICEF provides support
As an example of the situation faced by people in other parts of the world, the Secretary-General referred to the on-going humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa. Speaking to that issue, Sho Sasaki, 17, said, “Making donations is one way of assisting people in need, but there must be different ways we can be of help as youth.”
With UNICEF’s support, the Japan Committee for UNICEF has been actively providing assistance to the children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. In Fukushima, the Committee organizes bus trips for children, with the aim of helping them relieve their stress through the provision of opportunities for safe outdoor activities.
As the discussion drew to a conclusion, the Secretary-General ended the event reaffirming his commitment to the youth in attendance.
“Your voice is much stronger than prime ministers’ or any politicians’,” he said. “I am carrying back your voices to the United Nations.”