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Texas Visit Inspires Camps For Grieving Japanese Children

A year ago Sunday the world shuddered as an earthquake and tsunami destroyed villages and lives in Japan. In the aftermath some 100,000 children were uprooted from their homes, some orphaned and traumatized.

KERA told you about the Japanese who came to Texas to learn how grief counseling might be used to help the children. Shelley Kofler has an update on how that trip is about to pay off.

During last August’s heat wave the executive director of the National Camping Association of Japan checked into Camp El Tesoro near Granbury. Tatsuya Kanayama wanted to learn how the Camp Fire USA was helping children emotionally recover after loosing parents.

He found outdoor activities, arts programs and group therapy that encouraged children to open up about their losses and heal. Tatsuya dreamed of raising enough money to sponsor grief camps for Japanese children.

We called him up to check on progress and heard encouraging news.

Tatsuya: Our first camp will open at the end of the month. For this camp only 11 children will join.

The 11 children who will attend Japan’s first grief camp are orphans who lost both their parents in last year’s disaster. They will travel about three hours on March 25 to a camp in Taiwan where the weather is warmer. Tatsuya is elated to launch his project but admits it’s a small start. Some 280 children lost both their parents. Several thousand lost at least one.

Tatsuya: Many orphans have to live with relatives. Some have to live far from the hometown especially those in the Fukishima area. For them it’s hard to find way to go back to the hometown.

Kofler: How are they grieving?

Tatsuya: They can’t express their feelings out because of the unusual circumstance.

Grief Camp Project

Tatsuya says expressing sad feelings in not something Japanese children do easily. But he believes his camp can encourage that by creating a place where children have fun with others who’ve shared the traumatic experience. He watched it work in Texas.

Tatsuya: I think last summer in camp in Texas children enjoyed a lot. laughing, screaming. The way of expressing feeling is different from the way of Texas children that doesn’t mean Japanese children don’t enjoy.

Tatsuya wants to grow his camp program and add art therapy similar to what he observed in Texas. He’s raised almost $300,000 from supporters at home and around the world and thinks that message of global support is in itself therapy for the children.

Tatsuya: It’s hard to believe there are many people who think of them in Dallas far from them. When they know that I hope they can find this world is worth living though there are many, many sad things.

Kofler: Thanks, Tatsuya. I hope when we talk to you next year we’ll hear the kids are doing just great.

Tatsuya: Thank you very much.

Tatsuya hopes that during the next few years at least half of the children who lost both parents in the Great East Japan Earthquake will attend the grief camps.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.
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