Project area:Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture
Everything is for the Smiles of Children
A network connecting the hands of mothers
Things that could be done as a "mother"
8 days after the disaster the "Shiogama Mama Information Board" was started in order to share information about how to get nappies and powdered milk, as well as access to services such as baby bathing facilities. It was Chinatsu Suzuki who initiated this board. Until then Suzuki had merely been a passive reader of websites, but her desire to protect her child and others activated something within her. At the time of 3.11 Suzuki was with her 7 month old baby and 5 year old son when the earthquake hit. The tsunami warning sign ran out and taking just a supply of nappies with her she evacuated to the elementary school. They returned to their home 10 days after. However even though they were safe home, there were no shops open where Suzuki could buy nappies and milk etc. Even if she did find a shop she would have to line up and wait 2-3 hours while her children hugged close to her.
"If you queue up and are finally able to buy the goods it's okay, but if in the end there is nothing left then I would have to carry my small children in the cold and try to find another store. If we had the kind of information such "You can buy nappies here", then mothers would be really helped I thought. So in order to overcome the situation I created a bulletin board in which we could share such information."
Once she had established the bulletin board Suzuki considered what she could do next. And just at that time she encountered other mothers with the same thoughts.
"Ms Sudo, who I am currently running 'Mama no te' with, is also a mother of 3 children. She was concerned for children's hygiene while staying in the evacuation shelters and she collected milk and cleaning materials from her house and distributed them to mothers in the shelter. When we met through our shared awareness we began to talk of about the possibility of properly pursuing our activity in Shiogama and how we might be able to support other mothers, and this was how "mama no te" came to start."
For over 10 days they could not take a bath and could not change nappies as often as they would like. Children suffered from this, their skin becoming damaged, unable to sleep properly, crying out and so the first action which "mama no te" took was to provide a baby bathing service. They packed containers of boiled water from areas where water was available into a suitcase and would carry it to various areas, providing information on the message board. Then they began to support the distribution of clothes and supplements sent by friends and acquaintances to the evacuation centres. This was noticed by the city office and they requested the team to distribute other materials which had been sent to Shiogama. "All of the members of 'mama no te' had had the same thoughts and had taken action by themselves. But when for example we wanted to advertise the baby bathing service on the radio we were asked 'what kind of organization are you?' and they would not deal with us as individuals. While continuing our individual activity we have come to widen our engagements as 'mama no te'".
Nurturing the smiles of children 10 years from now
The mothers of "mama no te" brought together through the strength of their shared concerns aslso facilitated a "distribution meeting" 7 times within two months, working in the evenings to sort materials and distribute them to the various temporary housing units and rest of the town. Gradually the stores are opening up again for business so "mama no te" turned to the next thing which they could do.
"My friend lost her husband and was in a state of despair thinking 'how can I continue life now?'I don't know what I can do but I want to offer some strength. However it doesn't matter how much I want to offer strength, there is a limitation to what I can do as someone who has not experienced such a thing. So I thought that if there is an opportunity to talk with people who have had the same experience then this will be a greater source of strength and courage. I am thinking that if we can offer a "space" in which people can gradually open up to their feelings and slowly put these into some shape it may be of some help. I want to be able to share such stories with the children when they have grown up and let them know what people have experienced at this time."
The activities of "mama no te", born from the tears of children, have now since formed into a support for the smiles of those children and their mothers.
"The concerns of mothers with children are truly strong. We have such an urge to protect. So while taking care of these "strong concerns" of mothers we wish to continue with our activities. We want to build a society where children will still be smiling 5, 10 years from now."
Interviewed on 29th June 2011 Shiogama city, Miyage prefecture