The little girl turns the microphone in her hand and looks around, uncertain. Encouraged by the looks of the others, she starts speaking, slowly and faltering at first, then with more confidence. She tells about how she felt one year ago, when the earthquake pulled the rug from under her feet and her safe world started shaking. When she had to flee to the gym with the other children, and was confronted there with hunger and cold as she hadn’t known it before.
Afterwards, one of the older boys starts speaking. He unfolds the piece of paper containing the speech he has prepared for this day. He summarises the horrors of the earthquake and its aftermath as he experienced them. “Before the earthquake, our caretaker always told us not to throw away any food. But I only really found out what it means to be hungry during those days in the gym”. Yet, he also sees positive signs emerge from the terrible experience: the strong bond uniting the children and youth, and the many offers of help that arrived in the following weeks and months.
In the twilight, the children write the date, “3.11”, with candles. Children, youth and staff form a circle around the numbers. The candles are held by cups which the children painted with impressions from one year ago, wishes for the many people who were affected by the tragedy, and prayers for the dead.
Before the vigil, some of the children and youth attended a mass for the victims, and all of them spent the national minute of silence together in the courtyard of the half-demolished old home building. But it is during this ceremony at dusk that they are wholly present with their experiences and memories. Even the smallest children stand in the cold for more than 45 minutes without complaining; the usual coolness displayed by some of the teenagers has vanished.
At the end, all of them put their hands together and pray, as so many Japanese have done on this day. At this point, a flock of geese flies over the group and magically changes the moment. No one said anything about the birds, but they surely felt the positive sign of assurance that life continues, and things get better – even if the earthquake and the experiences that followed will never be forgotten.
Christine Prokopf, Malteser International
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