Hundreds of orphanage children in Norway have taken steps and confronted Norwegian society with what they had to go through in their childhood.
Now Kari Grasmo does the same. As a former missionary child raised in a boarding school in Japan, she has registered her complaint with the Justice Foundation for the Losers and tells her story to Ny Tid.
And she tells her story in the hope that all the others who experienced being sent to boarding school do the same.
- It was a betrayal from the adults. We were left to ourselves, alone without parents, during the important childhood years, says Grasmo.
Painted boarding school
Kari Grasmo was three years old when she came to war-torn Japan with her parents and a little sister in 1950. For about eleven years – minus a holiday stay in Norway – she lived in the land of the sunrise. Seven of the years she was placed at the boarding school in Kobe, before her mother's illness forced the family to return to Norway.
In the late 1980s, Kari Grasmo – a professional visual artist – sent shockwaves through the mission organizations that own the boarding school in Japan: After carrying on a bad secret for decades, she took courage and told the then Secretary General of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission Association about how the Norwegian principal at the school had sexually abused her and other girls while she lived at the boarding school in Kobe.
Through her direct and strong paintings, she conveyed the international life to both the public and to those concerned; the mission, the teachers and the parents.
- I painted the 53 paintings to bring out the pages of boarding life. But the media unfortunately focused mostly on those with the theme of sexual abuse, Grasmo says.
The exhibition was actually called "Child Fate", but was eventually called the "incest exhibition" in the vernacular. Something an angry Grasmo thinks is the fault of the newspapers and television.
- On behalf of all
In the early 1990s, she devoted much of her time to a collaboration with Save the Children. The organization purchased 24 of the 53 paintings from the exhibition, which opened at the Stavanger Art Association in March 1990.
Grasmo held a 20 slideshow for Save the Children both in Norway and in Sweden, and the Save the Children exhibition with her pictures was shown in hundreds of cities and towns in many countries.
Orphanage cases in Norway recently, where former orphanage children have claimed compensation for painful experiences in childhood, Grasmo got back on the barricades again.
- Before Christmas I went to Justice for the losers and told my story. But for now, I do not want them to go ahead with the case. I want this to be on behalf of everyone who went to boarding school in Japan. I also hope that there are many others who join in and focus on the conditions we missionary children were exposed to. Maybe there are many today who also experience the same thing?
- Large black hole
For Kari Grasmo's part, the betrayal began when, as a six-year-old, she was sent from her parents in Matsue on the Japanese coast to Kobe 10 hours away.
That time in 1953 the boarding school was not completed. A temporary school was set up on the second floor of a church building.
- I can not remember anything from the first time. Everything is a big black hole. But after a few months, I was sent home to my parents, who were told that I was not ready for boarding yet. Then I had started peeing and became a diaper baby again, as my father told me, Grasmo begins.
When the new boarding school was completed in the autumn of 1954, however, little Kari was again declared boarding school ready. Ny Tid will present a photo album with pictures of the school from the virgin era.
- Look there, there are only curtains in the windows of two of the rooms in the boarding school. At the very beginning it was just me, until after a while a girl of the same age came and lived in the room with me. Throughout the first fall, the two of us lived alone in a room in a long hallway with many empty children's rooms. Only after Christmas did a lonely boy come who lived in the boys' corridor. All three of us were seven years old. The other children we went to school with during the day lived at home, because their parents lived nearby.
- I was alone
The memories of the first fall are nailed.
- I remember the long corridor at the boarding school where we were all alone. First we lay on camp beds. Later we lay in bunk beds made of iron that the school received from the US Army during the Korean War. I do not understand; there were no adults coming and comforting us when we went to sleep. Our father was read to us, and then they left. I was alone, mother and father were far away, Grasmo remembers.
It was no more than a fall on the boarding school until she, as a seven-year-old, made profound acknowledgments.
- I learned to be independent of three things; not to need love, not to need to have security, and not to long too much, because then I just started crying and making mother sad. Lord God, I have been deceived. What they called a good and loving God has done this to me. I learned that I had a calling to live in a boarding school so that my parents could serve a mission. They have destroyed my ability to love, my security and my ability to long.
- Mother also a victim
Once a month, or often only every other month, Kari and eventually her two younger sisters, when they reached "boarding age", went to visit their parents.
It was called "Monthly leave", meaning at that time of the month it was allowed to go home.
- Even though we were small, we often went alone by train for ten hours and changed trains in big cities at crowded big stations. We prayed for you and put you in God's hands, mother and father told us. But when we got home we hardly saw anything of Dad, because he was out on a mission, Grasmo says.
The scarce time with the mother was no dance on roses either. She was both affected by tuberculosis and by severe mental disorders.
- Mom and dad tried with beaks and claws to avoid sending my youngest sister to boarding school. They applied to the school authorities in Norway to get approval that she would rather go to a Japanese school in Matsue. First grade she was allowed. But from the second grade, the authorities in Norway decided that she had to go to the Norwegian school. The same fall that mother had to send little sister to boarding school, she became insane and hospitalized. The vast majority of missionary mothers wept their tears, either visible or invisible. They were also victims of the mission.
- Had to sign
The mother's mental illness should be what freed the teenage daughter from the abuse. The mother's condition eventually became so bad that the doctor decided that she and the rest of the family had to go back to Norway.
- But it was still extremely painful to leave the land of childhood so quickly. It was taboo to have nerve problems. So we felt like we were being shoved out the back door to Norway. There it was also whipped and whispered. The mission even talked about sending me and my two sisters to foster care. It had never happened, says Grasmo.
When she first contacted Misjonssambandet in 1987, which together with Misjonsselskapet and Frikirken owns and runs the Norwegian boarding school in Japan, it had been 26 years since the family was "forcibly" sent home to Norway. As part of the settlement with the mission, Kari traveled to Japan at the mission's expense in 1990 to – as her lawyer had spoken – process the past.
- There I slept, among other things, two or three nights at the boarding school in the same bed that I had had as a child, and which now a new seven-year-old used, says Grasmo, and says that the teachers wanted many meetings with her.
- It was hard for all of us. The children in the middle school got to know about me and why I visited the boarding school after I had left.
When Grasmo, with the help of her lawyer, finally concluded her case with the mission, she was presented with a completed paper. There it was stated that she could never again make any demands on the mission in connection with the abuses. Grasmo signed.
- Was there no point?
For several years, she worked tirelessly to ensure children's rights in boarding schools, not only in Japan. She suggested a number of measures to prevent children who grow up today from experiencing bad things on boarding schools.
- I would prefer that all boarding schools should be closed down, says Grasmo.
She is shocked when Ny Tid reports that the County Governor of Oslo, who formally has the supervisory responsibility for all approved Norwegian schools abroad, has not supervised the boarding school in Japan once – neither before nor after the abuses against Kari Grasmo became known.
- I get so angry; was there no point in my exhibition, then? Neither the state, the Convention on the Rights of the Child nor the county governor help us. What the hell is a little girl doing then if teachers commit abuse, Grasmo asks.
She has in many ways worked on the sexual offenses, with fantastic help from good friends and professionals, she says.
- But I still do not understand that I was forced to separate from mother and father. That is why I have contacted Rettferd for the losers to bring the betrayal to light. We must be united when we are to make ourselves visible and hold the State of Norway accountable – we Norwegian-grown Norwegian "children", Grasmo concludes.