Story from kids in Tohoku

Kai Iwaishi 15 years old, Minamisanriku, Iwate
(July, 2014)
March 11, 2011 will burn in Kai Iwaishi’s memory forever. A sixth grade student at Natari Elementary School in Iwate’s Minamisanriku, Kai scrambled to the hillside behind her school with her classmates as the tsunami approached. She wondered about her parents, her home. Were they safe? When she returned home, she found her house had escaped destruction—the tsunami had come close, but the house remained. But her mother was missing. She later discovered that she had been swept out to sea, never to be seen again. Just shy of 12 years old at the time, Kai had to carry on. Deprivations followed—no electricity, no running water, and little food. She wondered about her future. But she was feeling more mature now because of the experience and focused on her life.
A year later in March 2012, along with other kids from the disaster regions of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures, Kai was selected by the Rainbow for Japan Kids project funded by TOMODACHI Initiative to go to Hawaii for activities designed to create friendships between the children of Hawaii and the disaster region, share their experiences together, and focus their thoughts on the future. Over eight days, Kai participated in camp stays, outdoor activities, making ukulele at a factory, and being surrounded by the natural beauty of Hawaii, its pristine beaches and oceans, and the unique Aloha spirit. How did this experience change Kai?
Returning to her home in Japan, Kai determined to better herself and her community. She took up the art of kendo with a renewed passion, something she thought about quitting when her mother passed away. But she persevered as a tribute and in memory of her mother since she also practiced the art. Kai also joined a non-profit organization called TSUNAGARI, dedicated to teaching kids not to fear the ocean and to clean and restore the local beach for use by all. Kai organized a volunteer group called Utatsu Sea Monkey which cleans the beach where her mother was swept out to sea, believing also that restoring the beach to its former beauty will bring back her mother’s spirit. Her volunteer group is supported by the TSUNAGARI NPO. In turn, Kai assists the NPO by traveling to other parts of Japan to tell her story.
Kai has persevered. Now a “more mature” 15, she can be seen in TSUNAGARI videos telling her story. And recently she won a kendo competition in Miyagi prefecture, a testament to her hard work and perseverance.

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