Child-Friendly Spaces light up smiles in quake-affected areas of Japan

5 April 2011

The Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) received the Early Childhood Development Kits and Recreation Kits from UNICEF’s warehouse in Copenhagen in order to set up and maintain Child-Friendly Spaces at shelters, nurseries and kindergartens. Since then, JCU has been providing safe, free and fun places for children who have had traumatic experiences during and after the earthquake.


The children’s eyes sparkled with excitement when JCU staff opened a box of early childhood development kits to reveal colourful toys and dolls at a shelter in earthquake-hit north-eastern Japan. Many of them have been separated from friends. Some have even lost one or both parents. “These children had been hiding themselves from head to toe with a blanket since the earthquake hit us three weeks ago,” said one woman staying at the shelter. “But now they are out playing and looking so happy.”

“This is exactly what the children needed,” said Ken Hayami, Executive Director of JCU. “I was convinced when I saw them playing with toys and drawing freely with crayons. UNICEF’s experience with children around the world is all packed in the kits.”

“The smile of these children motivates me to deliver more,” said Miwa Kurumisawa, one of JCU’s volunteers, who organises Child-Friendly Spaces every day at several shelters. Even local high school and university students, themselves affected by the earthquake, are helping run the spaces. The general public is also taking an active part through the ‘Children’s Mini-library Project’. More than 80,000 children’s books have already been donated to Child-Friendly Spaces in affected areas.
Child-friendly training for kindergarten teachers, nursery workers and parents is being scaled-up. “I felt relieved by sharing the difficult experience with peers,” says a teacher who participated in the training. “I am now empowered and determined to better respond to the needs of children.”

UNICEF’s global alliance partners are also playing important roles. Japan Airlines ensured a fast delivery of kits and other items for children. Play mats donated by IKEA serve as symbol of Child-Friendly Spaces. Children gather and wait for child-friendly activities to start when the mats are spread widely at the corner of the shelters.


While the Child-Friendly Spaces initiative is moving forward and making steady progress on the ground, JCU is also working with local governments on a ‘Back-to-School’ programme. As April is the traditional starting time for a new school year, there will be many more needs as children anxiously wait for the opportunity to return to school. “Children should be able to enjoy their childhood and go to school,” said Mr Hayami. “We are doing all we can here to realise the children’s rights.”