Japanese TV personality visits Tacloban

by Ronron Calunsod, Kyodo

Posted at Jun 20 2014 10:56 AM | Updated as of Jun 21 2014 02:36 AM

TACLOBAN CITY - Japanese television personality Tetsuko Kuroyanagi wrapped up Thursday a four-day visit to Cyclone Haiyan-affected areas in the central Philippines.

Kuroyanagi, 80, is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

The popular actress, TV host and author, left Leyte Province with a promise to make an appeal to Japanese for continued support for survivors, especially children, of the world's strongest typhoon that hit land Nov. 8 last year.

"I'm very impressed that children are still smiling. But meanwhile, I also felt that those children still have some trauma in their heart. I didn't talk directly, but I felt their problems in their hearts. So, we need to continually support the children," Kuroyonagi said before her flight from Tacloban City.

Kuroyanagi arrived in the Leyte capital Monday after a weekend visit to Mindanao where she met with students in a conflict-affected area of Cotabato City.

She arrived in the Philippines on June 13 and will return to Japan on Saturday.

Kuroyanagi said she decided to visit the Philippines as a way of celebrating her 30th year as a UNICEF ambassador.

In an interview, she told Kyodo News that until her trip last weekend, she was unaware of the four decades of violence in the central and western part of Mindanao, which the Philippine government hopes to end with the signing in March of an agreement with residents in the area, the majority of whom are Muslim.

Having experienced World War II when she was young, Kuroyanagi said she "really hates conflict situations because it creates problems particularly for children."

"In my encounter with the children in Cotabato, I learned one new thing, and which I fully agree. Their 'peace' hand sign only uses the index finger, and does not include the middle finger, which we are used to. They were taught that peace is about being one, or being united," Kuroyanagi said.

She expressed hope a time will come when children in Cotabato and other conflict areas "can already play freely in a safe environment."

In Leyte, Kuroyanagi visited bunkhouses, a care tent for mothers and infants and a badly affected shoreline in Tacloban City where ships are still marooned on land after they were washed there by the Haiyan storm surge.

She also went to see a gravesite for Haiyan victims, a damaged elementary school, a local health center and the regional hospital where she met mothers of malnourished children and inspected a UNICEF-donated desalination plant.

Kuroyanagi said support needs to be poured into the education of children by erecting new school buildings as well as into shelter for families.

She particularly pointed out the need to continue providing psycho-social care for children, saying, "Maybe, they still have trauma, which can continue until they grow up."

Clean water, especially for drinking, must also be assured, she said.

But Kuroyanagi said she is impressed with the resilience of people, seeing them smile, and their drive to continue with life despite the difficulties left by the cyclone.

She cited the closeness of family members that she finds special in the Philippines compared with the 30 other countries she has visited since her appointment as a UNICEF ambassador in 1984, and their "naturally happy" disposition in life.

Kuroyanagi said she hopes to raise funds for children in crisis in the Philippines by bringing her recent experience to the Japanese TV audience through her shows, including her daily talk show "Tetsuko's Room," and a one-and-a-half hour-long documentary set for airing on July 27 on TV Asahi.

As a UNICEF ambassador, she has already raised and forwarded to UNICEF around $50 million for programs and activities catering to children.

Haiyan left nearly 6,300 people dead, more than 1,000 missing, and nearly 4.1 million displaced, of which, 1.7 million are children.

Damage to schools was estimated at more than 2.3 billion pesos ($53 million).