Thomas Jacobs, head of Peacevillage International, pays first visit to Hiroshima

by Kyoko Niiyama, Staff Writer

Peacevillage International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) located in Oberhausen, a city in northwestern Germany, takes in and cares for children suffering from the mental and physical damages of conflict. The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Thomas Jacobs, 64, the head of Peacevillage International, during his first visit to Hiroshima and asked him about the organization’s activities and his thoughts about Hiroshima.

Tell us about the children at Peacevillage International.
Currently, we have 204 children between the ages of 2 and 11. They come from eight countries, including Afghanistan and the African country of Angola. Some are from poor families and others are orphans. Not a small number of them tend to react with violence because they grew up at a time of conflict or civil war. But when they live with other children of around the same age who grew up under similar circumstances, this gradually rekindles their kind hearts.

Children need more than just treatment for their illnesses or injuries, don’t they?
I have been involved in the management of Peacevillage for 38 years and have seen children learn to live with others with mutual respect. They also learn that human beings have equal rights. After going back to their own country, some have become teachers or doctors, helping to promote peace.

Tell us more about the activities at Peacevillage International.
As part of caring for the children’s mental condition, helping to calm their minds, we have children who experienced trauma fold paper cranes. Our staff members read them a picture book about Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia because of her exposure to the radiation released by the atomic bomb. During this visit to Hiroshima, I offered flowers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims as well as paper cranes that the children made. I hope our children will have an opportunity to meet children in Hiroshima.

How will this visit to Hiroshima affect your future activities?
I was impressed by the cityscape, which shows how Hiroshima has recovered 74 years after the atomic bombing. The A-bomb Dome brought home to me how horrible the atomic bomb really was. I will tell the children and the staff at Peacevillage that what happened in Hiroshima must never happen again.

Peacevillage is administered through donations from groups and individuals from various countries, including Japan. To date, we have provided support to more than 30,000 children. We recruit volunteers and organize study tours. It would be wonderful if the people of Hiroshima and Japan would take an interest in our work and join us in our efforts.

(Originally published on May 20, 2019)