Women of vision

Women of Vision: A Voice for the Unheard

    Jun Tachibana has been spending time and energy trying to support at-risk girls in the disaster-hit Tohoku region.

    She asks young women hanging around town to tell her about themselves. Many left their hometowns after the disaster.

    "How much money do you have left?" she asks one girl.

    "Nothing at all," the girl replies.

    Tachibana says the teens she interviews are suffering from economic difficulties or a family breakup. But she says the region's culture means most of them keep their concerns to themselves.

    "I found that many of the girls didn't release their anxiety even though they faced troubles," Tachibana says. "Young girls tend to think that people around them have a much tougher time."

    Tachibana herself faced difficulties as a teenager. But after she was interviewed by a writer, she felt relieved to be able to tell her story.

    Eleven years ago, she created a magazine called Voices, to share the stories of girls. Later, she started helping girls in trouble.

    After the 2011 disaster, Tachibana turned her attention to Tohoku. Sometimes she takes girls to get help with public services, or to the shelter she runs in Tokyo.

    One of the girls lives at Tachibana's shelter. Her home in Fukushima was flooded by the tsunami and her father lost his job. She says he often got drunk and violent. Eventually she felt she'd had enough and left home.

    "We had arguments over trivial matters. I think that's because we were at a loss over what to do," the girl recalls.

    She came to Tokyo to find a job. But because she was a teenager, she had difficulty landing one. She worked as a day laborer, but had trouble and asked Tachibana to help.

    With Tachibana's support, she got a full-time job at a welfare facility for elderly people and is now financially independent.

    "I am where I am today because I had the courage to ask for help. That was a good decision," the girl says.

    Tachibana says that when girls open up about their situation to her NPO, called Bond Project, "we should accept their feelings and provide a safe place to stay."

    Tachibana's activity has triggered a new movement. A telephone consultation service has launched, with government assistance. Its aim is to provide an ear for girls with problems in the disaster areas.

    Miho Nakajima helps an aid group that supports women who have called in. Nakajima herself met Tachibana after the disaster, and sought advice on what to do about her worries.

    She says through her encounter with Tachibana, she gradually gained self-confidence.

    "I want to become a person who can understand the feelings of others, just like Tachibana was able to with me," Nakajima says.

    Success stories like hers drive Tachibana to do more.

    "We want to produce more workers who can understand the challenges and hardships specific to young women," Tachibana says. "We hope there will be more opportunities to offer protection when necessary."

    Tachibana hopes her efforts to help the girls will allow them to speak out with their own voices.