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Storytelling by Aunties

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Mobile libraries carry many books in a large car and visit elementary schools and community centers. In Japan, there are fewer mobile libraries as community center branches increase across the country. However, the ones still in operation remain a valuable resource for people in remote areas.

 In Iwate Prefecture, an organization operates a mobile library. Ohanashi-Kororin is based in Ofunato in southern Iwate, and visits 11 elementary schools every month to bring books to children. Ohanashi-kororin also visits and hosts storytelling events and tea meetings at children’s facilities and disaster reconstruction housing. Teachers praise the selection of their books and the students say they look forward to the mobile library coming.

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Ofunato was struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 and experienced heavy damage. As books in the city were destroyed, Ohanashi-kororin started visiting evacuation centers after two weeks and began hosting storytelling times for children and the elderly. The team launched a mobile children’s library in May 2011 and a community salon in January 2015.

“Everything was swept away. We used any book we could get our hands on for our storytelling,” said the head of Ohanashi-kororin, Ms. Yukiko Esashi. As an Ofunato native, Ms. Esashi traveled from India to the Middle East before coming home in 2003 to launch Ohanashi-kororin. Since the disaster, she has participated in recovery efforts through storytelling activities.

Children’s mental and physical well-being have been impacted by the earthquakes and tsunami. Some children even ask, “The book is not about a tsunami, right?” Ms. Esashi remembers the times when she avoided books mentioning flooding or death. As reconstruction work continued, she began to select books that energize the room.

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Some staff joined Ohanashi-koroin after the disaster and others helped on the side. “We are just grandmothers. We cannot do specialized things but we believe in the power of books. We try to select books that bring children hope and attract non-eager readers,” said Ms. Esashi. Ohanashi-kororin has a book evaluation committee comprised of local libraries and experts, and assesses their activities on a regular basis. The team also provides staff training, hosts secondhand book fairs, and makes book recommendations through local newspapers and radio shows. 

“Children who were young during the disaster are now in middle school and high school. Some still remember us when they see us in their community and I feel that we have built a trusting network. On the other hand, elementary school students were just infants back then and they do not have any memories of the disaster. We try to include books on disaster preparedness to raise awareness. We may not see the effect of our book selections right away but we hope someday children can remember the things they learned through these books in the future. Ohanashi-kororin strives to bring more opportunities to nurture children into strong individuals.” - Ms. Esashi.

More than 10 years have passed since the disaster and funding from the government and private sector are becoming scarce. It is crucial to continue supporting children who have lost loved ones. 

Ohanashi-kororin is supported by Civic Force through NPO Partner Project. 

  • Great East Japan Earthquake

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