Kaiser students represent the United States in World Tsunami Conference in Hokkaido

By: Kayla Lum

When you think about Japan, you first think about its picturesque landscapes, delicious cuisine, and advanced technology. Yet, as an island that rests directly on four tectonic plates, Japan is also heavily prone to tsunamis—in 2011, the Tohoku Tsunami wreaked havoc on the country and caused the deaths of more than 15,000 people. To directly confront its long, painful history with tsunamis, Japan’s government began to institute significant reforms. One of these initiatives involves education and increased global connections—an initiative that Kaiser students were recently able to participate in. 

 In early September, juniors Marilisa Fujimoto and Derya Hanuzs-Soguk, along with seniors Nicole Iwamasa, Eui Jin Song and Anna Wood traveled to Hokkaido, Japan for the fourth annual High School Students Summit on World Tsunami Awareness Day. Inspired by the United Nations’ Tsunami Awareness Day in 2015, this two-day conference included participants from 44 different countries. At the event, student ambassadors discussed different approaches to tsunami preparation and recovery.

The students had been asked to attend the conference six months in advance and spent that time preparing through various research activities. The delegates-to-be surveyed the community on tsunami preparedness, filmed a short video highlighting Hawaii’s susceptibility to natural disasters, and produced a presentation that they would eventually bring to the conference. “The work they did prior to leaving for Japan was already a great feat, and I was incredibly proud of them. [I felt] blessed and honored to experience this adventure with them,” said Paul Balazs, the group’s advisor. 

Before the conference, the students toured various areas and schools in Hokkaido. The youth ambassadors learned about Japan’s tsunami history by visiting the Okushiri Tsunami Museum on Okushiri Island. At Okushiri High School, Wood spoke about how natural disasters should be seen as equalizers, and that we must learn from the inhabitants of the environments, economies, and societies that were affected. The students also picked apples in Sobetsu, went sightseeing at Goryokaku Tower, and hiked to Toya-Usu UNESCO Global Geopark, a UNESCO world heritage site preserved by the government to teach future generations about the Mount Usu eruptions. 

To start off the summit, the delegates presented their ideas about tsunami protection within 12 mixed-nationality groups. The Kaiser students’ group consisted of schools from Vanuatu, Micronesia, South Korea, and Japan. Their task was to build an action plan communities could use to rebuild after a natural disaster. The groups worked for over six hours to create a plan addressing the needs of all the represented countries, which they presented to their workshop committee on the following day. “At first, I might’ve been focusing entirely upon [being a representative], but it suddenly hit me that I was talking to people from all around the world,” said Wood. 

Through these presentations, the student ambassadors learned new ways to deal with tsunamis. Other issues were discussed, such as insurance policies, building codes, educational efforts, and evacuation systems. “[Japan is actually] instituting disaster education into the Japanese curriculum by next year, showing their dedication for a safer future,” Wood said. “I think that that’s something that should be brought to every other country, including America.” 

After hours of hard work, students enjoyed cultural performances by a few of the participating countries and met with the other conference attendees. “Interacting with students from around the world was an incredible experience,” said Fujimoto. “It was inspiring to see many young future leaders come together and share bright ideas… it reassured me with hope of what our generation can achieve by working together.”

The next morning, the conference hosted a tree-planting ceremony at the Governor’s residence in Sapporo. Fujimoto and a student representative from Hokkaido planted a tree together to honor the victims of tsunamis and pay tribute to the students and leaders working to increase awareness worldwide. Delegates from multiple governing bodies, including the Hokkaido Board of Education, also unveiled a statue to honor the work Japan is doing to help other countries prepare for tsunamis. After the ceremony, two representatives from each workshop committee presented the final action plans to the entire conference, and Iwamasa represented her committee.

The five Kaiser students returned from Hokkaido with a new outlook on life. “The Hokkaido trip allowed me to learn more about natural disasters,” said Hanuzs-Soguk. “Through the knowledge and perspectives of other youth from across the globe, I was able to create bonds and friendships that I will hold with me for years to come.”

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