Cultivating future leaders of education for sustainable development and disaster risk reduction in Asia-Pacific

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At a recent Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)-Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Youth Leader Workshop a student from the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan shared her personal experiences of disaster.

“My grandmother evacuated to the higher part of the town just after the earthquake. But she came back home to get something important to her. Then, she never came back again,” the student recalled.

“Unfortunately, she was washed away by [the] tsunami.”

In Asia-Pacific, the region most prone to disasters in the world, an increasing number of young people have experienced the loss of belongings, homes and their love ones-- parents, family members, friends, teachers and other community members. While shouldering such burdens, today’s youth are also the future of our world, and their action, determination and will is crucial for the creation of a sustainable future for coming generations.

The Save our Future - ESD-DRR International Workshop for Future Leaders in Asia involved both students and teachers from participating schools with the aim of strengthening the UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network  (ASPnet) in Asia-Pacific and for schools to work together for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and a sustainable future beyond the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).


From 5-8 February 2013, students from schools in Thailand, Mongolia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan participated in this ESD-DRR Youth Leader Workshop in Japan, as part of the Japan Solidarity Project initiated by UNESCO following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.

The Japan Solidarity Project is supported by Asia-Pacific Cultural Organization for UNESCO (ACCU) and Japanese Funds-in-Trust, and it is one of many UNESCO projects that were launched in support of the recovery process in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The project saw disaster risk reduction activities in schools across the Asia-Pacific region and messages of support and remembrance on behalf of 190,000 students, including paintings, poetry and even video recordings of songs and performance art, sent to schools affected by the disaster.

Held in in Sendai and Zao in the Miyagi Prefecture as well as in Tokyo, the ESD-DRR workshop provided the opportunity for students to share their experiences of participation in the Japan Solidarity Project and to engage in active and critical discussions about disasters. Some students shared their personal experiences of disasters, which struck an emotional chord with many. 

With disasters still fresh in memory among many, the participants showed great strength, courage and a willingness to learn and overcome. Over the course of four days, they learnt about the relevance DRR in the daily lives of young people and the importance of educating for sustainable development. They also had the opportunity to visit the tsunami affected areas in Japan and were able to in greater depth understand the devastation that the Japanese people had endured.

Facilitators of the workshop included representatives from Miyagi University of Education, the National Institute for Educational Policy Research (NIER), Hagoromo Gakuin Junior & Senior High School, ACCU and UNESCO Bangkok, who engaged with the students through interactive sessions and discussion. Representatives from the National Commissions of UNESCO, from select countries also attended.

The workshop culminated with student video presentations at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology in Tokyo. The videos illustrated what they had learnt, both during the workshop and during their participation in the Japan Solidarity Project, and highlighted their goals as future leaders in ESD and DRR. Many students emphasized that they had gained strength from the workshop and from realizing that all participating students had experienced disasters in their home countries, yet despite this everyone was still smiling. They also expressed their enthusiasm to continue to work together with their new found friends to reduce the risk of disasters for a more sustainable future.

The solidarity messages from all participating countries are available for public viewing on the Japan Solidarity Project website, along with research on the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster’s effect on the education sector, and on DRR in education more broadly at: The 2013 workshop Save our Future also has its own website with information about the workshop: These websites will serve as a medium for the ongoing exchange of solidarity messages and the cultivation of future leadership within the context of risk reduction and recovery. 



By Jennie Ekedahl and Rojana Manowalailao, UNESCO Bangkok