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Children help out at Kumamoto Pref. evacuation shelters

Tomoya Hirano helps make a wastebasket out of newspaper, in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, on April 17, 2016. (Mainichi)

KUMAMOTO -- Children are among those lending a helping hand at evacuation shelters in Kumamoto Prefecture as earthquake-stricken areas try to recover from the disaster.

    Nishihara Junior High School in the village of Nishihara, where five people died from the quakes, is serving as a shelter for about 300 people. Junior high and high school students here, themselves disaster evacuees, have helped the elderly and young children when they need to use the restroom, calling out "Are you OK?" and "Are you using the restroom?" to people needing help. With the water supply cut, the students have assisted by carrying in buckets of water to flush the toilets and enable restroom users to wash their hands.

    Students Kokoro Iwashita and Suzuka Tajiri, both aged 12, came up with the idea of assisting at the restrooms on the morning of April 17, after noticing that adults were busy with food preparation and cleaning up and wondering what they could do to help. They were joined by one of their friends, Yurika Takeda, 12, and a 17-year-old high school student, Shoma Tanba.

    The deadly quakes damaged Iwashita's home, breaking windows. She has only just started studying at Nishihara Junior High, and her brand new school uniform was found after the disaster under some furniture, soiled by rain and mud. Still, she has remained positive.

    "At least I still have my life. We have to help each other at times like this," she said.

    Seiko Yoneda, 79, says, "Children who are younger than my own grandchildren are working hard and I'm really thankful. They cheer me up."

    Meanwhile, about 20 evacuees including children are working as volunteers at the health and welfare center in the town of Mashiki, where around 1,000 people have taken shelter. Their jobs include cooking, collecting garbage and distributing newspapers. Tomoya Hirano, 8, wearing a piece of tape on his sleeve bearing the title "volunteer," has helped by making wastebaskets out of newspaper. His home was destroyed and he sometimes cannot sleep from fear of the earthquakes, but he says resolutely, "I will do what I can to help everybody." His dedicated efforts have given courage to other evacuees.

    His mother Naoko, 43, says, smiling, "My son may be learning the importance of people helping each other."

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