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Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011
N.Y. high schoolers hear from hibakusha
By YASUOMI SAWA
NEW YORK — A civic project by New York-based residents has since 2008 been giving local high school students a chance to hear the experiences of those who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Hibakusha Stories project has organized special classes at more than 40 high schools that allow students to listen to atomic-bomb survivors and ask them questions, such as why they think the United States decided to use the weapons.
The project's enthusiastic staff members say they want to help the younger generation build a nuclear-free world.
In one such hibakusha at Brooklyn International High School, Kathleen Sullivan, one of the staff members, warmed up the students by asking if they could name the countries that have nuclear weapons, to which the students responded enthusiastically.
But a hush fell over the classroom when the hibakusha started talking. Some students took notes, while others shot videos with their mobile phones.
A male student asked Reiko Yamada, 76, who survived the bombing in Hiroshima, if she wanted revenge for her terrible experience. Yamada responded calmly, saying, "Revenge will cause a chain reaction and will create a worse situation.
"We do not want anyone else in the world to go through what we experienced," Yamada said.
Students kept quizzing the survivors and, after class, asked for their autographs.
"I think they're really strong to share their ideas with us," said Pilar Perez, 17. "They are passing their stories to us. . . . We can share it with another generation."
In another high school, one student thanked Setsuko Thurlow, 79, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, for sharing the pain she experienced, and then recounted his own anguish — his mother was killed by the father of his younger half brother. The two hugged and cried.
"Even though I talked about being exposed to an atomic bomb and issues of nuclear weapons, it is very valuable that a teenager related these experiences to something that has happened in his own life," said Thurlow, who now lives in Toronto.
"Because I think when these teens think about global events, they will start associating them with their own lives."
Robert Croonquist, 62, a project staff member and a retired secondary school teacher, said Hibakusha Stories had recently been criticized by a teacher who called it an advocacy, rather than an educational, group.
But Croonquist noted that in 2002, all member states of the General Assembly of the United Nations voted that each nation would develop education concerning disarmament.
"I interpret that to mean we have a mandate to educate that nuclear weapons are not acceptable and that we must work together to create a global security network that makes it possible for nations to disarm," Croonquist said.
The project faces challenges, including funding shortages and aging hibakusha, but the organizers aim to continue it until 2015 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings.