IITATE, Fukushima Prefecture--A delegation from Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, could forget about their troubles and smile as they attended the opening ceremony for a junior high school in a Laotian village, eight months delayed, but not forgotten.
Delegation members, from the no-entry zone of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, attended the Feb. 12 ceremony for the school, which was built with funds raised by the village of Iitate.
Residents have been forced to evacuate after their village was designated as part of the evacuation zone due to high radiation levels following the accident..
"We promise that we will use the school building carefully for a prolonged period," the superintendent of schools in the Laotian village of Dongnyay told the Iitate delegation. "We appreciate your attendance in the difficult time after the earthquake.”
Hiroshi Saito, who works for the village board of education, and who attended the ceremony, said, “I was encouraged to see Laotian villagers striving to pull themselves out of a difficult life."
Construction of the school was completed in June last year and classes have been ongoing since, but the ceremony had been put off due to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The newly built school is located in the mountain village of Dongnyay in Salavan province, where there is no electricity or running water, and virtually no paved roads.
Most of the villagers make a meager living growing coffee beans and other products.
Compulsory education in Laos ends at elementary school age. There had been no junior high schools constructed in the village.
The new school is constructed of wood and has four classrooms and is attended by 254 students from nine nearby and remote villages.
Iitate, also a mountain village, launched the school construction project in Laos in fiscal 2009. It was called the Madei Project, with “madei” meaning “considerate” or “kind” in the local dialect.
The project raised 1.75 million yen ($21,700), which came from Iitate residents and village natives who donated money under the hometown tax system.
The project was mediated by Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Asian Education and Friendship Association, whose director, Akira Sagawa, is a community building adviser.
The Great East Japan Earthquake struck northeastern Japan around the time construction was nearing completion.
When classes at the Dongnyay school began in June, Iitate villagers were evacuating, and the opening ceremony to which village head Norio Kanno had planned to attend was suspended.
Iitate received a message of encouragement from the villagers of Dongnyay.
On Feb. 12, the ceremony was finally held, attended by two Iitate officials, including the 31-year-old Saito. All the students, the village mayor and many other villagers attended to thank Saito and his colleague for their new school.
They performed a welcoming dance at night for the guests who came all the way from Japan.
“For us Iitate residents, who have to go through a long road for reconstruction, it was heartening to see people (in Dongnyay) who hold out hope despite their impoverished lives,” Saito said.
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