Tokyo, September 6, 2011 ― For “Yuriko,” a Japanese mother struggling to help her child overcome fears about another tsunami like the one that hit the island in March, solutions seem hard to come by. But now, through an American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) post-trauma program using a huggable plush dog named “Hibuki,” Japanese children and their families will take a step toward healing. Pioneered during the Second Lebanon War to help Israeli children overcome stress and anxiety from rocket attacks, the Hibuki program has recently been expanded to Japan by JDC experts who visited tsunami-affected regions and trained Japanese teachers, nurses and other professionals to use the sad eyed, long armed stuffed animal to “hug” children and talk through their worries.
“Our work in Israel and in places like Haiti and South Asia has demonstrated that treating trauma, especially in children affected by war or natural disaster, is a vital step towards recovery,” said Judy Amit, Global Director of JDC’s International Development Program and a clinical psychologist. “By utilizing Japan’s history of doll-play and by helping our Japanese partners tweak the Hibuki program to mesh with local cultural norms, we are working together to ensure that children here find solace in the wake of tragedy.”
The Hibuki program — whose training in Japan was carried out by JDC’s Dr. Flora Mor and Dr. Shai Hen-Gal— is based on the principle that children who actively face their stress can alleviate fears and better adapt to life after a trauma. The child is told that his/her Hibuki is scared and suffering. By working with the stuffed animal, the child transfers his/her own fears onto the doll and in fact, through the doll, helps "treat" him/herself.
To date, 50,000 Israeli children have been treated using this method and Tel Aviv University professor Avi Sadeh, in a study on the program, has noted the high rates of reduction in post-traumatic responses and distress in children. The Hibuki treatment method was developed by JDC, the Israeli Ministry of Education - Psychological Counseling Service, and the Department of Psychology at Tel Aviv University.
“There is no doubt that the Israeli presence and their experience is echoing loudly and powerfully, especially highlighting the need to implement this method in kindergartens in Japan. The JDC team showed professionalism, creativity and extraordinary adaptability, harnessing the experience gained in Israel for coping with stress and trauma to help us, here on the other side of the world. I'm full of respect and appreciation,” said Dr. Michiko Hara, founder of the Japanese Puppet Therapy Association, whose conference the JDC experts attended and participated in while in Japan.
In addition to the Hibuki program, JDC and the Jewish Community of Japan’s comprehensive and immediate response to the earthquake/tsunami has included the provision of critical emergency assistance, such as food, water, medical aid, hygiene products, blankets and tents. JDC has also furnished two schools and provided school supplies to children in the most-devastated prefectures. JDC also supported the establishment of Israel Defense Force (IDF) field hospital in Minamisanriko. To learn more, visit JDC’s Japan Relief page.
JDC’s long history of working in and with Japan includes: the rebuilding of a school in Kosovo with Japan after the 1999 conflict; working in Kobe until 1941 supporting Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Europe; and supporting Jewish refugees in Yokohama between 1918-20, most of whom were fleeing Russia.
JDC's non-sectarian disaster relief programs are funded by special appeals of the Jewish Federations of North America and tens of thousands of individual donors to JDC. JDC coordinates its disaster relief activities with the U.S. Department of State, USAID, Interaction, the Israel Foreign Ministry, MASHAV, Israeli relief agencies, and the United Nations. JDC gained substantial disaster expertise in Haiti in 2010 as well as in Sri Lanka, Chile, Thailand, Turkey, Indonesia, India, New Zealand and Maldives following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004