Wednesday, December 14, 2011

9th Kyoto Caravan: SWTJ in Tohoku in December

The 9th Kyoto CAravan is on the way!

9th Kyoto Caravan SWTJ members (from left to right): Uechi-san, Yoshikawa Yasuo, Watanabe Eiji, Ueda Yuko, Kato Wako

The 9th Kyoto Caravan SWTJ team left on December 10 and is touring several temporary housing sites where community events are organized in the spirit of the upcoming holidays.

On December 11: a soba buckwheat noodle event at noon followed by a community event in the evening in cooperation with the SWTJ Kesennuma Branch at the Tsukidate temporary housing site in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

On December 12: Community event in collaboration with the SWTJ Rikuzen Takata Branch: Making Korean specialties with members of temporary housing in Rikuzen Takata, Iwate Prefecture. Kimchi Korean-type pickles will  last for the winter for the resident evacuees, and a warm meal of sangetan steamed chicken is shared by all.

On December 13: Making holiday-crafts  event for children at several temporary housing sites in collaboration with Kesenuma City Child Center.

SWTJ would like to thank the many donors who supported these events with funds, or who sent us donations in kind including holiday cards, sembei and treats for the children, and ingredients for making the kimchi pickles and the sangetan chicken!

Shuto Naoya@SWTJ

(Translated and edited for the English version by B.Y.)

SWTJ team takes part in community relay event in the disaster zone

 SWTJ at the 31st Tsukidate Relay Event

On November 6, SWTJ joined the residents in the Tsukidate district of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture at their traditional autumn relay event, the 31st in history! Conducting the event in spite of the earthquake and tsunami a half-year earlier shows the community's strong will to go forward and to recreate and strengthen community bonds.

Mr.Yoshida of the SWTJ Kesennuma Branch at the opening

Teachers from Tsukidate elementary school led the warm-up session

Many local people lined the streets and cheered the runners on while holding flags

A bit nervous: SWTJ member starting off!
(The SWTJ runner of the first relay section finished a disappointing 7th. Why should I hide it? That was me, Kanazawa Ryo, the writer of this blog!)

Fortunately, others in our team caught up, and we managed to finish 4th.

A Tsukidate junior team won the first prize! Local boy of the winning team holding the wooden SWTJ trophy.

A bottle of Kamotsuru sake from Kamotsuru sake brewery, a SWTJ sponsor in Hiroshima, went to the team that won the participation prize.

Big thanks go to the six local ladies who joined our four runners in the SWTJ team for the event!

Running toward the same goal with the Tsukidate people while passing on the baton to each other helped us create new bonds with the people in the disaster area. Big thanks for letting us take part!

Kanazawa Ryo

Don't let me down! Waiting for spring-- 9 months after the disaster

September 11, six months after the disaster. Every month, the 11th keeps 

returning. October, November, December. Many of those of us who have continued 

working in the disaster area since spring have kept asking the question that the locals 

also face every day: 'What should be  done next?'

Difficult choices must be made.

Disaster victims are faced with difficult choices on a daily basis. Should this boat that was swept inland be preserved on-site as a reminder of the tsunami, or should it be done away with? Opinions are divided. 
In spring, the choices seemed easy. We started off from zero without funds, information, or connections, and went ahead following our intuition and imagination on what was needed, and brought food and relief goods to the victims. People were hungry, needed blankets and lights, needed a warm meal, someone to listen to them. While responding to these early needs, we were also determined to support the disaster victims over the long term, and adapted our activities to new needs on a monthly basis. Looking back over the last nine months, we must ask whether our choices were the right choices, and whether we were doing enough to understand the real feelings of the victims. 

In Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, 8 months after the disaster, time stands still.

On April 9, SWTJ was asked  by the Kesennuma Volunteer Center to set up a soup kitchen for 150 people.  While preparing the task, we had a chance to help sorting relief goods in a storage of the center. That was one month after the disaster, and there was plenty of water, rice, vegetables, and canned food. 
That was when I started to become sensitive to the question 'What is really needed?'

Today, more than 9 months after the disaster, SWTJ is preparing to send a team to the disaster area for the 9th time. Thanks to the help and funds of many supporters, and thanks to fellow SWTJ members who are giving their very best in skills, time, and connections, we have continued. But what is most important is how our work is received in the disaster area. Yes, I did personally cut my hair in a mohawk hairstyle before going, to make sure that each first encounter would be a reason for a smile. 
But really: we must continue asking 'What is needed now?' and never forget to think of the feelings of the evacuees regarding our actions.

My mohawk hairstyle never fails to make people smile

6 months after the disaster, significant changes occurred. People were moving away from evacuation centers into temporary housing. With privacy and shelter, physical needs seemed to be taken care of. But in reality, this was the time when the difference between the haves and the have-nots started to greatly affect people's lives. While this new challenge was apparent, I also remember being told at one of the temporary housing sites in Rikuzen Takata: 'Don't worry about bringing stuff. Why don't you just stay and talk for a while?' It was apparent that it was the people on the ground who could best tell us how we could keep up long-term support with dignity.

Sharing time with junior high school children at Niitsuki Middle School in Kesennuma. SWTJ Kesennuma Branch Head Tamura teaches the children how to gain iron from iron ore in a crafted iron melting charcoal stove. The Niitsuki area at the border between Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures has traditionally been famous for its abundance of iron ore and for ancient melting techniques. 

Disaster victims are tired to be always on the receiving end after so many months. Yes, people need money. But we must think about dignity, and respect. Like us, these people not only need money, they also need dignity, and respect. 

An evacuation center in Shiogama, in April: people tire being always on the receiving end

The difficult step away from 'First Aid' towards 'Long-term Support.' That step may have been needed earlier than we all thought. It is a step away from delivering support goods, a step towards a different kind of support. So what is really needed?

Things that money cannot buy: memories, pictures, family, a time that does not come back
We decided to shift the center of programming for our activities to people who live in the disaster area. The SWTJ Kyoto office and members now work in cooperation with these offices on-site. We are extremely grateful to the branches in Rikuzen Takata and Kesennuma, in particular the Mori no Gakko Nature School in Tsukidate, for taking the lead in setting up programs for SWTJ that answer immediate needs in the disaster area. These leaders are people who themselves suffered in the disaster , they lost jobs, family, and friends, and can tell how activities will be received. SWTJ supports these people in taking the lead.

The SWTJ Spring Flower Project, supported by our on-site branches. A reason for looking forward to spring? 

During the last 9 months, we have encountered uncountable tragic stories, we shared tears or a smile, or at times, just silence. We will continue to build trust in the region, through our members on-site, and through our activities, which we see as a collaboration. Unless we continue to knock on people's emotional doors so that tragic stories and anxieties can be shared, unless we continue to knock on the door of temporary housing units and continue activities in an effort to build mutual trust, we cannot hope to welcome spring next year together. A long, cold, solitary winter is approaching.
We must keep in mind that there are things necessary that cannot be bought with money, but that need time, determination, and conviction:

'Building trust', 'Spending time together,' 'Being there.'

Sky and Ocean in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture

The Bakery 'Partir' in Minami-Soma is one of the only bakeries in this town around 30km from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear reactors that kept going after the disaster. During the most critical time, the baker kept distributing bread to the needy and to evacuation centers on foot, for weeks, day and night. SWTJ assisted musicians during a November live concert for evacuees and residents in the town who gathered to honor the work of the bakery. 

Dream&Hope : Live Concert in Minami-Soma by the group ARISA
At the border of the 20 km no-entry zone around the Fukushima nuclear reactors (Minami-Soma, 14 November 2011 )
Official signboard: "Keep Out"
(signboard set up by residents)
We can't leave

(at the 20 km no-entry border to the Fukushima nuclear site)

Yasuo Yoshikawa