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Student penpals in Afghanistan and Japan share hope amid hardship

By Nanako Saito and Alistair Gretarsson

FUKUSHIMA, Japan/KABUL, Afghanistan, 6 July 2012 – Sara's dream of seeing Yuka has finally come true. The two teenagers were great friends although they had never actually met.

UNICEF reports on a virtual meeting between students in Fukushima, Japan, and those in Kabul, Afghanistan, just prior to a conference in Tokyo on the future of Afghanistan.


When the earthquake and tsunami hit eastern Japan in March 2011, Sara, who lives in Afghanistan and has lived through tough times herself, sent Yuka a letter of support. Yuka responded and a friendship was formed. But until today, they had no idea what the other even looked like.

Students at Yumoto High School in Fukushima, Japan, and at Tajwar Sultana High School in Kabul, Afghanistan, finally got the chance to meet virtually over a live video link using Google+ Hangout technology, just three days before a major international conference in Tokyo on the future of Afghanistan.

Sara and her fellow students in Kabul were introduced to their counterparts in Japan last year through the ‘Tegami’ letter project, which was initiated by the Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU). They were curious to see what their penpals in Fukushima looked like and were thrilled to finally hear their voices.

During the live video link-up, the 10 girls in Kabul interacted for over an hour with the 34 students in Fukushima. The students on both sides had many questions, asking each other about their day-to-day lives, their hopes and dreams for the future, and even about their favourite foods.

They also discussed some serious topics, sharing their stories of the challenges they have faced and their ideas on how to build a better future together. “My wish is that we are united. We should work hard to become highly educated. We are the future of our country and we can build our country and our future again,” said 17 year-old Hasiba in Kabul.

Supporting each other

All these girls have one thing in common: They have suffered major calamities. Through their letters to each other, the teenagers built friendships and supported each other, forming a strong bond for life.

“Students in Kabul really encouraged us after the earthquake,” said16 year-old Akane Ohta in Fukushima. “Their compassion and friendship mean a lot to us. I was so excited to finally meet them today. This was a wonderful opportunity.”

Students in Yumoto High School, Fukushima, now study in a makeshift school building as their original building was severely damaged by the earthquake last year. The Tajwar Sultana High School was constructed through the 1,000 classrooms project implemented by UNICEF with funding from the Japanese Government.

© JCU UNICEF/2012/Matsunaga
A student at Yumoto High School in Fukushima, Japan interacts with girls at the Tajwar Sultana High School in Kabul, Afghanistan during a live video chat organised by UNICEF.

The Minister of Education for Afghanistan Farooq Wardak attended this unique event in Kabul and spoke with students on both sides. He expressed his great appreciation for the solid friendships between the students, between their schools and between the two countries.

The Minister had a strong message for the students in Fukushima. “Please tell the world leaders who are meeting in Tokyo that it is not from a shortage of war machines that the world is suffering, but from a lack of equitable access to meaningful and quality education. This is what makes us all vulnerable to violence and destruction,” he said.

Hopes and dreams for the future

On 7 July, the day before the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, the people of Japan will celebrate ‘Tanabata’, or the ‘Star Festival’, where people across the country make wishes for the future. Students in these two schools wrote down their hopes and dreams on paper slips and tied them to bamboo trees. These messages will be delivered to leaders attending the conference.

Back in the classroom in Kabul, the girls had some strong messages for the world leaders meeting at the conference in Tokyo, asking them to place education and the rights of women and children at the top of their agenda.

This was echoed by UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Peter Crowley. Speaking in Fukushima, he said, “Investing in education is an investment for the future, not just for development but also in promoting and sustaining peace and stability.” Addressing the students, he added, “Your courage in the face of adversity, whether in Fukushima or Kabul, is a tremendous source of mutual support and an inspiration to us all.”

Sara and Yuka have hopes of one day sitting together in the same room. “I want to see her again as I have so many questions for her,” said Sara.

“I hope we can do more for Afghanistan,” said Yuka. “I hope that Afghanistan will soon see a future that is peaceful, that has no more struggles and where everyone can continue to live in happiness.”

Even though the video link broke down several times during the interaction, the bond of friendship between these girls only grew stronger.



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