With the leak of radio active materials from the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, my thoughts went to my friends and acquaintances in Fukushima Prefecture. Are people still volunteering for a disaster recovery center in Minami-Soma District, located within 20-mile radius of the leaking plant? When I checked their blog site, I could not help smiling. Today, 70 volunteers participated in weeding, drain cleaning, and debris removal. The photo was taken a year ago when I helped unclog a well drain in Odaka, 12 miles north of the plant. Volunteers are still engaged in similar projects. Even though the center has been facing financial difficulties, they seem to be thriving with an average of 40 volunteers signed up for each day.
These volunteers paid for their transportation and food. When a lodge provided by the center were full, they had to look for an accommodation, which was not easy as hotel rooms were reserved by construction companies months in advance. In my case, I had a list of about 20 hotels, and the last one I called had a room available. Often, we did not see the owners of the houses we are cleaning. A restriction was still in effect, and no one was allowed to stay overnight there. Most of the evacuees live in temporary housing units built far inland.
The real time data of environmental radioactivity level is available online. For example, the level at Minami-Soma City Office today was 0.272 µSv/h, slightly higher than the normal level of less than 0.114 µSv/h. Most of the volunteers were well informed of radiation effects. Nevertheless, they took a risk. I judged I would be OK as my exposure would be limited to 3 days. The fact I did not have dependents played a role in my decision-making as well.
Why do we volunteer in Fukushima? A man said, "For self-satisfaction." I agreed with him. The center director had a different answer. "When the evacuees are allowed to return home, we want them to be able to start afresh."
"Ono-kun" monkeys, handcrafted by tsunami survivors in Japan, are welcoming customers at Wild Strawberry Market in Rapid City. The women in Higashi-Matsushima are now sharing smiles with American children through the monkeys.
My next project is to sell handmade items from earthquake-ravaged areas of Japan globally through an online store. It is wonderful to empower the earthquake survivors through this project. I will see how this nurse-artist will manage to carry out the new tasks as an enterprenuer.
Please click one of the images to start the slide show. The photos were taken by Kaori Koizumi, Kurumi Tamura, Miwa Nishi, and me.
It came a long way since the initiation of assessment of people who remain in their own houses in and around Ishinomaki City.
Mr. Ito, the director of Team Ohkan, felt it necessary to go to listen to each household. As the emergency stage had been passed, he wanted to value the locals’ input in order to offer truly-needed assists. The government had no ear for that, and he recruited volunteer nurses, who could go out into the tsunami-stricken regions for him. I joined the project shortly after the initiation and had begun to lead the assessment team. Meanwhile, Mr. Ito formed an association with Dr. Muto and Mr. Narukawa, who desired to find elders who might not be able to receive necessary medical care because of the isolation.
The assessment would be meaningless unless adequate follow-ups were carried out. Little by little, other professions were integrated into our project, and Health and Living Revitalization Council was established. In order to promote the health of each household, we had to assist them individually and holistically, so that each could return to the pre-earthquake living as quickly as possible. The city and town officials finally begun to show interest in our project. It will be so ideal if governmental and private agencies work together for the same purpose. This seemingly unrealistic vision might become possible in Miyagi Prefecture.
Rolling the time back to October of last year, I shall show you my first accommodation, Nobiru Elementary School, in Higashi-matsushima City. Click one of the images below. The slide show with captions will start.
The school building was in a bad condition. When it rained, condensation formed on the interior walls ran down to the floor. Our budget was tight, and heaters were not turned on until mid-December. No one had the time to cook after work, and most of the meals were instant. These physical hardship could have been tolerable with a good leadership. Mrs. Iwamoto’s words came across my mind time and again. “If you want to lead people, volunteer to do the work that no one wants to do.” In my opinion, the director of Plus Neo simply lacked the attitude, and we the sub-leaders started to loose our dedication to him. When Higashi-matsushima City asked all the four organizations in Nobiru Primary School to move out of the building by December 10, I had no sympathy for the director.
There is a complicated network of relief organizations in Japan. We the assessment team belonged to Plus Neo, which offered us lodging. We worked for Team Ohkan and collaborated with many other agencies and nonprofit organizations under a project called “Ishinomaki Health and Living Revitalization Council.” In contrast to my deteriorating amity with the director of Plus Neo, I was able to develop a trustful relationship with the director of Team Ohkan and the project coordinators. They kindly had arranged a new accommodation for us. On Dec. 5, we moved into the support center in Ishinomaki City.
The center reminded me of the comfortable living that I had been used to in America. It has all the basic appliances, such as central heating, running hot water, a bathing room, and semiprivate rooms with beds. In order to provide us with the best working environment, they hired local women to cook and clean for us. I felt like a spoiled queen bee.
Oct. 19, 2011
Let me roll back to the date when I arrived at Nobiru. Frequent bus services were provided there in place of the original train line, which was yet to be resumed. As soon as I stepped off a bus, debris at Nobiru Station reminded me of the destructive power of tsunami. However, in the midst of the sad reminder, blooming Cosmos flowers welcomed me with a message that life perseveres. Again at Nobiru Elementary School which was located within a walking distance of the station, I marveled at the yellow hue of sunflowers. These flowers, which had been planted by a local women’s group, were like a symbol for resilience of the people.
I shall not call them “earthquake victims” in my blog. They are ordinary people who happen to be affected by the earthquake and tsunami. As I interact with the locals, I have learned that people are people. Their weakness, strength, beauty, and ugliness are similar to what I have seen in North America.
This morning, a fellow volunteer told me, “Why don’t you take a day off? If you miss this chance, you will probably not be able to take one for a long while again.” I quickly handed my tasks to her and ran to a bus to go to Sendai. I am visiting a former volunteer here. It’s wonderful to have the time to write.
Japanese are well-known for their industriousness. The leaders of volunteer organizations I belong to have been working without any day off since the earthquake, and we are naturally expected to be as diligent as they. However, when I consider that the restoration of the tsunami-afflicted areas will take years and that it has been past the emergency stage, I wonder to myself if it is still necessary for aid workers to stress ourselves out with the workloads.
Although I wish for more private time, I am happy with my work. We visit each family at their home environment and access their needs. Most of them have already renovated their houses, but still a few live in houses with no window or floor. Those without adequate housing usually lack food. About one half of the victims need psychological support. Many request simply for information. We collect such data, discuss the needs in a weekly meeting, and provide each family with what is needed. One organization cannot handle a large project like this. Rather the collaboration of different professionals is the key to the success. I am thrilled to be involved as an assessment team leader in this rewarding project.
Here is a photo taken on Oct. 21, shortly after I arrived at Nobiru Elementary School. Most of the volunteers have already left.
Akita: After the nuclear power plant disaster, the government asked the citizens to conserve electricity drastically. Without collaborative efforts of every single person, East Japan could have run out of electricity during the peak heat of summer when people ran AC's day and night. However, the government's worry was unnecessary. The people readily responded. They turned on AC's only when absolutely needed. Imagine sauna-like conditions in public buildings and transportation, but complaining would be a shame in comparison to the hardship that the victims of the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami were trying to overcome.
More than 7 months after the triple catastrophe, the efforts were still in effect even though the threat of energy shortage had far passed. The local food store in the photo was dimly lit. The hand drier in the bathroom was turned off with a sign of apology for the inconvenience. A banner on the entrance said, "East Japan, Let's Make Collective Efforts for the Same Purpose!"
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