When the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami hit the north eastern coast of Japan on March 11 last year, children were among the most vulnerable. Thousands had their homes devastated, countless lost family members and friends, and children of all ages saw their schools damaged or destroyed.
One year later, children are back in school and the vast majority of families have moved out of evacuation centres and into temporary housing. Material needs that were so essential immediately after the disaster - blankets, food, warm clothes, and other essentials - have now been met.
Over the past year, Save the Children has mounted a large-scale emergency response reaching over 65,000 people thanks to your help. There is still much work to be done which is why we have set up a long-term recovery program spanning over five years.
When Masahiro "Hiroe" Fukushi talks about the day earthquake and tsunami hit, he calls it "That Day." No other day like it came before, and none has come since. Today, almost one year later, Hiroe thinks back to "That Day" and remembers the indescribable stress of not knowing whether his family and friends were alright - or even alive - and the journey he had to take to get back home and find out.
"That Day I was on a school [boating] trip in Hawaii - I wasn't in Japan. My older brother was in Miyagi for a university exam, but the rest of the family was here in Miyako. On the way back to Japan, there was an announcement in the boat about the earthquake. I was shocked, was completely stunned. I tried to make a phone call but I couldn't reach my family.
"I was in shock when I got back [to Japan]. I lost the ability to find words - I couldn't talk about it. The boat from Hawaii couldn't get in the port because there was so much debris in the sea off the town." Instead, Hiroe's boat went further south, past Tokyo. Finally Hiroe and his classmates were able to reach land in Shizuoka, almost 170 kilometres south of Tokyo - and close to 740 km from his family in Miyako. "We had to stay in Shizuoka for one week to wait to be able to leave" explains Hiroe, as the roads and train tracks were not secure. When Hiroe and his friends were finally able to leave, they got on a bus to Osaka - travelling even further from his home. From Osaka Hiroe managed to board a plane and then a bus, finally arriving in Hanamaki, just over 100 km from his family and his home in Miyako, by the coast.
It was five days before Hiroe could speak to his parents.
When Hiroe finally made it home, he quickly realized the home he had travelled so far to reach, had now been destroyed. His family was no longer there, having been forced to abandon their home to avoid being swept away by the powerful wave of the tsunami.
The family has lost everything - not just their home, but their entire business. Before the tsunami struck their town, Hiroe's family was one of hundreds in their town to make their living off of the sea, running a fish-drying factory in town.
After the tsunami devastated their factory, Hiroe's parents went to work collecting scattered debris caused by first the earthquake, then the tsunami. The plan was to rebuild their factory after they had saved some money, but the factory location was too close to the sea and the government did not grant them permission. "Their factory and their house were both just by the sea, but today they can no longer build there," Hiroe explains. "Instead, now they are staying in a temporary housing unit in Yamada."
Because of the new regulations prohibiting building in certain areas too close to the sea (and thus considered at higher risk), Hiroe's parents have to purchase new ground to rebuild their house and factory. But he says that due to the family's financial situation - after losing so much in the tsunami - they can no longer afford to purchase new ground and rebuild what they lost.
Even though the state didn't give any approval for them to rebuild at the same place, they are already doing something because there is no clear rebuilding plan announced yet in the city, and they cannot wait anymore. The family feels that they need to do something themselves in order to move forward, rebuild their lives and regain their livelihoods.
Although he and his family lost so much on That Day, Hiroe has not lost his hope for the future - or for the fishery industry so vital to his family's wellbeing and that of his hometown. "I'd like to be an engineer on a fishery boat. I don't know yet for sure, I'm still young - but I know I'd like to contribute to the fishery industry somehow."
Hiroe admits that this won't be easy, after seeing with his own eyes how much damage the sea wreaked on the industry and his own family's business last March, on That Day. "I still love the sea, but I'm a little bit afraid now," he confesses. "I used to go fishing, but today I can't anymore. I don't want to."
Save the Children is supporting Hiroe and other children in the Iwate area, to continue their studies and vocational training as they work towards careers in the fishery industry, one of the hardest hit by the tsunami that struck the north-eastern coast of Japan last March.
Hiroe is keen to continue his studies so he can overcome his fears of the sea, and contribute to the industry when he gets older. "The scholarship programme is really important for me because I'd like to continue my studies in junior college, and this scholarship would help me do that."
Despite his lingering fear of the sea, one of the reasons the fishery industry is so important to Hiroe, he says, is that it helps him "to be connected with the people." He is quiet as he thinks about his community's ties to each other and to the sea, considering his role in it all. "I've lived by the sea since I was young, I grew up by the sea...I'd like to keep this strong tie to the people."
"Since the earthquake and tsunami, I think that working together and supporting each other is the most important thing we can do."
Thank you to our sponsors
Target and Save the Children Australia
Save the Children would like to thank Target Australia for its support of our Japan Earthuquake Appea.
SchoolAid and Save the Children Australia
Save the Children partnered with SchoolAid on the 'SchoolAid Japan Disaster Appeal'. Funds raised by Australian schools for the Appeal will be directed to Save the Children's relief efforts addressing children's ongoing and urgent needs.