A Summer to Remember in Hiroshima!

After a year of preparation and hard work, the University of the Middle East Project is proud to announce the successful implementation of the Oleander Initiative in Hiroshima, Japan. 

Oleander Participants and UME Staff at Hiroshima Peace Park after August 6th Memorial Ceremony

13 educators from 11 countries in the MENA region, the US and Japan spent a week together in Hiroshima with the mission to design educational projects that raise awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.  The Oleander Initiaive was implemented during August 2-9th, coinciding with the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

After a night in Tokyo and an Opening Dinner hosted by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, the Oleander Initiative officially began with an orientation session at the Hiroshima offices of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

Image result for unitar logo

Oleander participants met with the head of the UNITAR Hiroshima office, Mihoko Kumamoto and her staff who welcomed them to Hiroshima and gave a presentation entitled the "Rebuilding of Hiroshima." 

UNITAR Head of Office, Mihoko Kumamoto with Oleander participants at Hiroshima UNITAR offices

With a stunning view overlooking the Genbaku Dome and Hiroshima Peace Park, the UNITAR offices was the ideal location to convey the "power of place" that was at the heart of the Oleander Initiative.

The Genbaku dome in view behind Elizabeth Gruenfeld,                                Oleander Participants at Orientation Session                               Oleander Academic Co-Director 

Oleander educators attended a Kagura performace after the orientation and experienced their first of many Japanese cultural activities. To see the same performace as the participants, click HERE

Kagura actors performing Tokagushi - Yama (Tokagushi Mountain) at the Hiroshima
Prefectural Citizen's Cultural Center

Oleander participants had the opportunity to meet the actors and try on the Kagura costumes after the performance.


The first full day at the Oleander Initiative featured a morning lecture entitled "Facets of Hiroshima" by Prof. Ron Klein of Hiroshima Jogakuin University. Prof. Klein's lecture provided an overview of the history and aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and then focused on the constantly changing meanings associated with the city since the end of World War II. You can view Prof Klein's powerpoint presentation by clicking HERE 

Perhaps the highlight of the Oleander Initiative was the powerful hibakusha testimony by Mr. Horie Soh.

Soh-san was five years old and less than 1 1/2 miles from the hypocenter when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On that day, the atomic bomb blast blew him off his feet as he walked to school. Despite his proximity to the bomb, Soh -san remained unharmed because his elder sister protected him from the blast with her body. He vividly described the terrible aftermath of the bomb - terribly burned children that sought shelter at his house and the many family members who succumbed to cancer, a likely result of the massive doses of radiation they absorbed. Soh-san is one of the very few surviving hibakusha who can give is testimonial in English and we feel lucky and grateful that he shared his testimony with us at the Oleander Initiative.  

                  Soh-San's testimonal                                         Oleander Participants with Soh-San outside the World Friendship Center
Among the highlights of the Oleander Initiative were the many opportunities to interact with the Japanese students and teachers in Hiroshima. UME enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Jogakuin High School  whose students led a tour of Hiroshima Peace Park in English for the Oleander educators. 

Jogakuiin High School Students with Oleander educator in Hiroshima Peace Park

The guided tour by the Jogakuin high school students ended at the Honkawa Elementary School Museum. The Honkawa school was the school closest to the hypocenter of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.  Due to its reinforced concrete structure, the building survived the blast and currently serves as a museum that houses various artifacts and commemorates the over 400 students and teachers who lost their lives that day.

                Oleander Educators wtih Jogakuin High School Tour Guides  in front of Honkawa Elementary School Museum

The relationships between the Oleander educators and Jogakuin students and teachers deepened during our school visit on August 6th, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Approximately 350 teachers and students lost their lives when the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945 and the Jogakuin High school implements an annual "Peace Forum" for students from thoughout Japan, Asia and the US in order to honor these victims. 

Jogakuin High School Memorial for the 350 teachers and students who lost their lives during
the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

The students at the Jogakuin Peace Forum this year had the unique opportunity to meet with Oleander educators and engage in a rich cross-cultural session about the MENA region. 

"Peace Forum" students with Oleander educators 
at Jokaguin High School 

Oleander participants had the opportunity to attend the Memorial Ceremony hosted by the City of Hiroshima to commemorate the 71st Anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city on August 6th.

The Releasing of the Doves at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony

As part of the 50,000 attendees at the ceremony, Oleander participants were fortunate to be seated in one of the front lying seating areas with a clear view of speakers such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and the Hiroshima childrens' declaration of peace. Participants also placed flowers at the Memorial Cenotaph that housed the names of all the people who were victims of the atomic bombing and took part in the floating lanturn ceremony at the Motoyasyu river during the evening. 

      Oleander Participants at the Cenotaph                                  Oleander Participants at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony

While in Hiroshima, Oleander participants attended the Gensukiyo World Conference Against A + H Bombs . This conference includes nearly 10,000 attendees from over 50 countries and is the largest conference of its type. First established in 1955, it is credited as the venue to first give voice to the hibakusha victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oleander participants attended various panels and discussion sessions focusing on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  Both Ray Matsumiya, UME's Executive Director and Leila Ben Said, Oleander participant from Tunisia had a chance to address the conference attendees. 

         UME Executive Director, Ray Matsumiya speaking at Opening Panel              Gensukiyo Conference audience at Hiroshima Green Arena

                  Japanese "Peace Walkers" at Gensukiyo Conference                 Leila Ben Said at the "No Nukes" Women's Forum at Conference 

The groundbreaking nature of the Oleander Initiative generated tremendous excitement and support in Hiroshima and attracted both local and natonal media coverage in Japan. In addition to several regional newspapers, the Oleander Initiative was featured in the Yomiuri Shimbun, the largest national newspaper in Japan, and with a circulation of just under 10 millon readers, the largest circulated newspaper in the world. 



The main objective of the Oleander Initiative is to promote awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war to young people in the MENA region.

During the week long Oleander Initiative, participants continually modified and refined Hiroshima themed educational projects for the students in their home communities.




The working space at the Oleander Initiative was donated by the City of Hiroshima and located within the Hiroshima Peace Museum. The "power of place" of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that powerfully displayed the tragic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, gave the participants additional impetus for their important work.


Tricyle of a 3 year old victim of the atomic bomb on display at the
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Mr. Yasuyoshi Komizo, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation , a body under the auspices of the CIty of Hiroshima paid the Oleander Initiative a visit on the last day of the program. Mr. Komizo was the former Ambassador of Japan to Kuwait, as well as the Special Assistant to IAEA Director General Mohammed El Baradei. Mr. Komizo stressed the importance of the Oleander participants' work, the great value of cultural exchanges and engaged in a lengthy question and answer session with the participants.

Many thanks to the Otterman Foundation, Japan Foundation, Sasakawa Peace Foundation, the Samuel Rubin Foundation, and the City of Hiroshima for making this program possible. Special thanks to our facilitators, Galia, Liz and Michelle, and our program coordiantors Rie and Era for all their support and expertise. 

Please contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions or would like additional information about the Oleander Initaitive. 


Ray Matsumiya
Executive Director

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