Taking It Home…

There is a rare bond that one can create, a bond that can tie one to a specific being, object, and moment in time or in my case… a specific place. Japan was that place, being in Japan was a totally unreal experience in itself and just participating in UNESCO’s productive LBD forum p2 added to the unreality of it. I use to think that when traveling to different places you tend to gain a part of that place inside of you, and in exchange, leave behind a part of yourself. That theory of mine still exists, and this time, I feel it showed, significantly.

As the night fell darker on Sunday evening, it hit me, 5 days’ worth of unforgettable moments and cultural indulgence, were finally drawing to a close. The tide was coming in, and it was time to set sail. Words could never explain what it felt like to experience such a peaceful yet vibrant and colorful culture. Japan had much to show, and its culture had much to offer, but unfortunately I had little time to give. Just walking through the streets, I was exposed to a lifestyle so different to my own, and what made it the beautiful and peaceful culture it is today was its people. From what I witnessed, the people of Japan showed dedication and determination through everything they would do, for example, from the tour guides who had transported their customers to scenic parts of their city with nothing but their own two feet and memory, and to the shopkeepers who yelled bargains at by passers waiting for that one customer.
They showed respect and grace through their hospitality and service to others. Their love was also shown through everything, like when a grandchild carried a tired elder on his shoulders, or when a mother, lit a candle of good fortune for her child, to place within a glass frame of blessings.


What I saw truly amazed me, in fact to many it would have been seen as a pretty average day, but for someone such as myself who has been deprived of the sight, of such passion and culture for quite some time, it really was something.
It is not every day you come across an opportunity like this, in fact for many, it is seen as a once in a lifetime opportunity. And to share this experience with a crew of lively and talented NZ youth, the trip couldn’t have been any better. As predictable as I could ever be, I’d have to admit; you don’t know what you got, until it’s gone. Through these experiences, you learn to cherish things more often, and be grateful for what you have.
Delegates from all corners of the world spoke of the hardship their people would face on a day to day basis, and despite all the negatives that came with those countries carrying their titles of development, there is something that has been showcased more broadly then what us developed countries have forgotten, and that is culture and tradition…

I learnt to recognize the differences between my own cultural lifestyle and theirs, and realized that so far, mine is not looking so good. The Japanese so far have learnt to adapt to the idea of global urbanization while at the same time, have still managed to keep their cultural and traditional practices alive. Maori on the other hand, have struggled through the fight of not only keeping alive that flame, that Mana and that Tikanga burning but also balancing it with the path of the future. Unfortunately this struggle has ended up with younger generations being caught up in a situation of confusion, where they have lost sight of what it was like to be apart of their land, and have lost sight of what it was like to claim their right as Tangata Whenua.
Although it is a turn for the worst, there is a way out. Maori people have the chance to preserve what is left of their land, their culture, their traditions and customs, while at the same time, learn to move beyond what is holding us back from developing into a resilient culture, community and nation.
In order for barriers to be broken, eyes must be opened, and with opportunities such as these events, youth, being the future leaders of tomorrow can do this. It is only a matter of time.


Hohua Kurene


The bamboo, it moves with the wind and does not break

And all of a sudden we’re on the home stretch of the Forum. It’s amazing thinking of how many incredible experiences and stories we have shared between the 80 participants in such a short amount of time. Today we are all madly preparing to give one or more presentation, and it’s this flurry of action and energy fanning the flames of enthusiasm that brings me the most inspiration. It’s a rare situation when you can look at a world of terrible terrible situations and only see the positives that flow out of them – and today is that time for all of us. Collectively, 25 action plans are being developed and presented, ranging from waste reduction initiatives in the Philippines; disaster education library foundations in Indonesia with assistance from New Zealand; and a 2nd generation documentary project from our Australian friends from the first forum. The innovation and creativity is incredible.

Screaming along beside action plan preparations is the redrafting of the Forum Communique. The idea of this now also second generation document, has been developed by a diverse group representing Nigeria, Finland, Colombia, New Zealand (Twice!), Australia, Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. It is looking at being a 10 page document that encapsulates the fundamental values and beliefs shared by the wider group, as well as a series of recommendations surrounding different topics of thought in relation to disasters (Education, Science, Media and communication, Government, Youth action; intersecting the preparation/reduction, response and recovery phases of disasters). The argument is that we are all micro-experts in the field of disaster resilience, and it is our responsibility to push for our collective knowledge to be heard and acted upon. Quite an exciting and enriching process to be involved with.

By the time this entry gets uploaded, most of the NZ delegation will be safely back home, having made final presentations, recieved certificates, videos, hugs, laughter, photos, music, dancing, fireworks, tears of joy and sad farewells that transform into excited ‘see you soon’s. . Having limited to no internet access has posed various challenges, but moreover it has provided us all with a chance to forget about everything that is happening in ‘real life’. Being in a completely foreign setting with people from 14 countries and twice as any languages ensures that learning is unavoidable, consistent, and a team effort. I think it is safe to say that we are all monumentally grateful for the generous support we received in making this trip, and the ongoing guidance and support from Vicki Soanes and the organisations she so ably represents. Without this support each one of us would be 25 steps behind where we are now personally, professionally, and with each of our chosen directions for action. Straddling the divide between ‘youth’ and ‘adult’ has provided me chance to engage at both levels, which has been exceptionally rewarding as an aspiring facilitator. We return home resfreshed, energised, inspired, and enthusiastic about the contributions we are going to make to Christchurch individually and as a collective. For this we are exceptionally grateful.

To summarise, I’ll paraphrase a 16 year old boy called ‘CJ from the Philippines’ who captured all 80 of our experiences and lessons into one phrase that continues to resonate throughout my thoughts.

“The bamboo, it moves with the wind and does not break. We must learn to be like the bamboo, so that when disaster comes we can also move with it, and never break.”


It’s not unti…


It’s not until you attend an event such as this that you realise how volatile our world is, how just a couple of seconds or minutes can change your world beyond recognition. It’s only when you see the devastation, the empty landscapes, piles of rubble looming in the distance and shires which remember the dead, that the reality hits you.  In Christchurch we have gap filler to stop our streets from looking empty with the loss of some of our buildings, but in Sendai the gaps seem to go on forever, with only the odd damaged building standing alone. We saw two schools affected by the Tsunami, one with a badly damaged gym but no casualties as all students were evacuated to the roof, while the other school saw fourteen students killed because no decision was made in time. It was sad to see the broken windows and children’s umbrellas still outside, waiting to be used. It was frightening to learn that the difference between surviving and being killed in a Tsunami can depend on what side of the street you hp difference between life and death depends on what side of street you were on or how fast you were able to run.  It changed the tone of the trip and reminded us why we were here.  The point of this forum is to learn from past disasters and help our communities prepare for the future, building resilience and helping to look beyond the disaster.

We started off the third day of the forum with several workshops and presentations, learning the importance of disaster planning within your family and community and trauma care for victims of natural disasters. It was interesting to hear about the trauma caused from the experiences from Fukushima, about children who were stigmatized from the accident and how families were affected and so on.  Hearing personal experiences of the disasters from countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and Indonesia showed the how communities can be affected by disasters.  It was also inspiring to hear their stories and what they have done, the research into reducing the risk of flooding in certain areas, educating young mothers on how they can protect their families and introducing warning signals into community homes.

Action plans are already starting to be developed.  Three of the NZ Delegates are working on a film and photo expedition, aimed at raising awareness about natural disasters, the risk, and prevention and how people are affected. Benazir is working on an action plan to work with the deaf youth of Christchurch as well as working with Chloe to develop a blog where people can share their experiences form the Christchurch earthquakes.  The forum is going well, and is going too fast, it’s hard to believe that on Monday we will fly back to New Zealand. Tomorrow we will present our action plans to numerous community leaders, so tonight we will be up late making them look stunning.


Friday at the Forum – hot rooms and great ideas

The second day of the Forum was a long one. After a day exploring Sendai by bus, it was quite different to be together in a room all day, with the incredible (for kiwis anyway) heat hardly touched by the air conditioners.
Looking around the room, it was great to see the faces of people from around the region, all keen to work hard and learn from each other.
The day was kicked off with a digital media workshop led by Salvador, (Digital CinematiX) a wonderful Australian filmmaker. Forum participants were encouraged to let their creativity flow and to speak to the world using the great tools available online.
Later in the morning I presented on the first Looking Beyond Disaster UNESCO Youth Forum that took place in Christchurch in December 2011. I showed Anna Cottrell’s moving film about the forum and we were reminded of the energy and the spirit of those few days. The spirit of that forum lives on here in Sendai.
One by one, the New Zealand delegates presented their action plans from 2011, and shared their ideas for future work around disaster resilience and recovery. Many of them told me afterwards how nervous they were, but it was impossible to tell – they spoke brilliantly, and I was very proud to have supported them to participate.
Benazir brought me to tears again with the Rise Up video, performed by students from her school. Many of the international participants have asked us questions about Benazir – who is deaf – surprised that she is able to participate so fully. Thanks to Bryanna and Cathy, who volunteered their time to interpret for us all – I know that Benzair is bringing a unique perspective to the discussions over these few days. And she’s hilarious – there is lot of laughter (alongside a few tears) in these rooms!
Today we also heard a presentation from Tohuku native Tsuyoshi, who told us about the concept of ‘Kizuna’ or ‘the bonds of friendship.’ He told a moving and personal story of his experience after the Tohuku Tsunami, and highlighted again how students and young people step up to support their communities in the face of disaster all over the world.
Kiwi volcanologists Mark and Heather helped us with technical aspects of a particular type of natural disaster (a bit scarier after the last few weeks in NZ) and their talk connected well with an Indonesian presentation on volcanic eruptions in their country, where many died as they refused to abandon their home villages.
The afternoon finished off with workshops on Education for Sustainable Development from ACCU (who got us on our feet exploring the history of the earth) and Tal from Volunteering Queensland who led us through techniques to build community resilience.
After an evening spent working on their new action plans, the participants were set free to enjoy the evening at about 9pm. Cathy and Bryanna were finally able to rest their arms (NZSL interpreting is hard work) and alarms were set for an early start the next morning.