Fukushima high school campaigning to stop coronavirus-induced discrimination

Let us widen the circle of kindness to those infected by the new coronavirus disease…so goes a campaign being undertaken by a girls’ senior high school attached to Koriyama Women’s University in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. The “Citrus Ribbon Project,” originating in Ehime Prefecture, is spreading across Japan, calling for the elimination of discrimination and slander against victims of the COVID-19 epidemic. “Citrus ribbons” symbolizing the movement have arrived at the Koriyama Women’s University-attached High School from Ehime volunteers who have been interacting with the school since the western Japan prefecture hosted a national athletic meet in 2017. The school was hit by reputational damage last spring when unfounded rumors spread after a then professor of the university tested positive for the coronavirus, but students hope that a circle of friendly people holding hands with one another like the ribbon will expand. Twenty-six member students of the school's volleyball club shaped each ribbon into three rings representing “community, home and workplace (school),” pledging to “make no discrimination, behaving with compassion.” The club members, each wearing the ribbon that shows the vow, are considering spreading the campaign to other students and residents of their communities. When the female professor’s infection was brought to light in March, students and school officials faced discriminatory words and deeds. While some other people in Koriyama were infected one after another, it was confirmed that their families as well as themselves suffered name-calling and other defamatory remarks. “Precisely because there are students hurt (by such heartless words), it is significant for us to work to spread the circle of the movement,” emphasized school principal Teiko Sasaki. Triggering the interaction between the school and Ehime people were exchanges with residents of the Ehime Prefecture town of Kihoku, which hosted a venue for a girls’ volleyball competition in the athletic meet. The main players of Fukushima’s team were students of the school. Townspeople gave them a cordial welcome, including the hanging of banners, each depicting a team member’s name. The bond forged during the meet is still alive, with specialties from the two sides exchanged between Kihoku residents and school officials, including volleyball club adviser and schoolteacher Yoshiko Sasaki who accompanied her students as the Fukushima team’s coach for the athletic event. Early in June, amid spreading effects of the disease, teacher Sasaki sent to the town a cow-shaped “akabeko” red doll and a keyholder, wishing for an early end to the epidemic on the strength of the legendary doll, which is supposed to keep illnesses away. Impressed by the gift, the families of Kihoku residents who offered the visitors private rooms as accommodation during the meet as well as municipal office staff made citrus ribbons by hand in return for the present. The ribbons were accompanied with a letter with a warm message wishing that she and others in Koriyama “will spend quiet days hand in hand.” The encouraging words from a place as far away as Ehime inspired the students. “It is important to treat people with a kind heart because we never know who will be infected with the coronavirus and when,” said high school senior Miku Aoshima, who captains the club. “We would like to convey our feelings to as many people as possible.” ※Citrus Ribbon Project The campaign was broached by a group of citizens in Matsuyama, capital of Ehime Prefecture, in a bid to eliminate discrimination against COVID-19 patients and medical professionals. The three rings represent “community, home and workplace (school),” wishing that infected individuals will return to their respective places with peace of mind. Campaign participants are working to raise awareness by each wearing a citrus-colored ribbon, inspired by Ehime’s specialty of citrus fruit. A circle of empathy is spreading among companies and municipalities across the country. (Translated by Kyodo News)