June 3, 2011

In the Motoyoshi section of Kesennuma (Miyagi Prefecture), residents had always relied on wells for their drinking water, but the tsunami left those wells polluted with sea water and fuel oil, making the wells unusable. As a result, the residents have had to travel an hour to temporary water stations that are distributing drinking water. To assist, the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) distributed both drinking water and large water storage tanks so that people can make fewer trips.

rpt1106_665_obataIn Ishinomaki, AAR delivered a nursing bed that allowed a disabled resident to finally leave the hospital. His home was swept away in the tsunami, and he fled in his wheelchair to a nearby supermarket. The next day, he moved to a hospital in Ishinomaki, but they lacked medicine and beds, so he slept on the floor for five days. Without a nursing bed, he could not return home, so he was moved from hospital to hospital. On May 27, AAR delivered the bed to his new home, and a smile finally came to his mother’s face, helping to ease a little of the stress she had endured from living in the evacuation center and trying to find a place to live. After two and a half months, the family was finally going to be able to live together under one roof again.

NICCO has been working with a student network, Youth for 3.11, to bring volunteers to Tohoku to help with clean-up efforts. Since April 26, more than 100 student volunteers have participated, taking one-week shifts. These students come from all over Japan—from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south—to help clean up homes, schools, fields, and other areas of Kesennuma and Rikuzentakata. They have also helped to serve meals to evacuees in Kesennuma.

110601-1NICCO’s Secretary-General Norimasa Orii noted that there is a perception gap within Japan. The Tokyo/Kanto area, which has continued to feel aftershocks and has been affected by the nuclear disaster as well, is showing greater awareness of the need to conserve electricity. Many places have voluntarily stopped their escalators, for example. In areas farther away from the earthquake zone, however, that awareness seems to be lacking. For that reason, this student volunteer project has two objectives: The first is of course to get manpower into the region, since the clean-up is going to require the work of many, many people over a long period of time; the second, however, is to create links between the Tohoku region and other regions of Japan so that people in other areas become more aware of the problems that the Tohoku region is facing and the need for everyone to do their share. Reliance on the power of youths comes naturally to NICCO, since the organization began in 1979 as a student-led initiative to help Cambodian refugees.