Minamisanriku is slowly yet steadily progressing after 95% of its area and about half its population of 19,000 were wiped out in the March 11 tsunami.
Temporary housing establishments have taken in almost everyone displaced by the disaster. Running water and electricity have been reconnected and, for the most part, reliably operating. A majority of the rubble and debris have been cleared and swept into piles along the shore.
The town is starting to carry on through improvisation, with some small shops and businesses renewing their livelihood out of temporary units. Much of the shoreline along Tohoku has sunk 70 centimeters (27 inches), so rebuilding plans are in the works. Until these plans are finalized, people have no choice but to start with temporary commercial ventures.
Many residents have left the town since the disaster. It is hard to say exactly how many as the town’s statistical data were lost in the tsunami. Those remaining hope that these people will return to Minamisanriku to help in the rebuilding process. As there have been no set plans for infrastructure reconstruction, most residents live in temporary housing units. Some have work, but most do not. However, everyone is eager to keep busy.
O.G.A. FOR AID, a non-profit organization involved in the rehabilitation of Minamisanriku, has two ongoing projects in the area. One is farm-based, where we make use of undestroyed and idle farmland in Minamisanriku to cultivate vegetables. The project creates jobs for local residents, provides them with income and hope, and fills the need for fresh produce since there are currently no supermarkets in the town. It also has the potential to develop into a long-term industry in its own right.
We are also renovating a space to be used as a Community Learning Center where residents can use the computers and Internet, relax with a beverage at the Hope Café (jointly created with HOPE International Development Agency), or browse through a library. English classes, events and seminars will also be held there. The venue and its features will be free of charge for local residents.
Even though perhaps most residents hoped for quicker reconstruction and a more definite recovery plan, after six months, the reality of a slow recovery is apparent.
People take joy and hope from small everyday progresses, such as the opening of a small cram school for one temporary housing area so children can keep up with schoolwork. A computer school also opened last month on one of the safe hillsides. Access to fresh produce via trucks and/or distribution by NPOs has brought some relief.
Local events such as fireworks during the Obon summer holidays and sports days at local schools also provide some much-needed relaxation and a chance to smile. Activities such as these bring a sense of familiarity and normalcy and are especially positive for residents.
Work, livelihood, and personal independence are keys for long-term rehabilitation, recovery, and rebirth. Individuals must know and feel that their actions are effective in driving progress and that the efforts they make have meaning and are accomplishing something. Work and livelihood are critical to society, especially one so badly battered by nature. Some feel this positive sense of forward momentum, while others are falling through the cracks.
To try and fill in those gaps and ensure that no one is left behind, O.G.A. FOR AID is building upon its initial emergency relief and distribution effort to cover areas of critical need—job creation and self-development through educational opportunities.
We aim to remain in Minamisanriku until the town and its people are on its feet. We have forged strong bonds with the community, and they are counting on us for ongoing support.
The situation in Tohoku remains extremely tough, and although the people are resilient, the truth is they need ongoing assistance for years to come. Every little bit of support from ordinary people can make a difference.
O.G.A. is running an event on Oct. 12 in Tokyo’s Nishi Azabu to raise funds for its Community Learning Center. For details, see http://www.wazoo.jp/open/oga_jornu/
Angela Ortiz is the Director of Administration for O.G.A. for AID