May 18, 2012

omoe1On May 11, JCIE staff visited the Omoe Day Care Center in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, where they met with Ms. Fukiko Ishii of SakuraNet (our grantee for this project), and Mr. Hiroshi Kuzu of the Miyako Social Welfare Council, and learned a bit more about how this project came about.

Ms. Ishii first became active in disaster assistance efforts following the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck her hometown in 1995, and she has since become an innovator and leader in Japan’s nonprofit sector. She currently oversees the Joint Committee for Coordinating and Supporting Voluntary Disaster Relief Activities. Following last year’s disaster, she has been assisting relief and recovery efforts in Iwate Prefecture.

The lounge area of the Omoe centerSeveral months after the earthquake, she was speaking with Mr. Kuzu, who had been hoping to find a way to rebuild the senior daycare center in Omoe. The remote location of this town—situated on a peninsula about an hour from downtown Miyako—meant that such a center was both more important to the community and lower priority for the strained government budgets. Ms. Ishii introduced Mr. Kuzu to a friend of hers, Prof. Munemoto of Ritsumeikan University, who challenged his architecture students to come up with an inexpensive, safe, and practical design. While the students worked on the actual design and construction, Ishii, Kuzu, and Munemoto garnered local and legal support for the center’s creation, procured discounts on materials, negotiated assistance from local companies, and raised funds—including from the JCIE fund.

JCIE staff toured the finished center. It has a unique, spacious dome shape, formed by hexagonal panels. The windows are covered with film instead of glass, which keeps the building warm in the winter, and the building was constructed to be wheelchair accessible so that the seniors and others in the community can use the facility. Since opening, the center has been used once a week as a senior daycare center by the Miyako Social Welfare Council. Others in the community are also able to use the center, and little by little the members of the community have been bringing items to equip the center—a TV, whiteboard, children’s books, a microphone and cassette player for karaoke, and so on.

The center was built on land provided by the local fishing cooperative and it has a beautiful view of the ocean. Next to the center is a temporary housing unit, and the residents there are enjoying having the center there to give them a pleasant place where seniors can relax, children can play, and neighbors can mingle.