The Ogatsu landscape has further changed in recent months. All building structures that remained in one form or another after the earthquake and tsunami have been torn down including the former town hall which served as a storage and work area over the past 2.5 years. With the help of your generous donations, Hands on Tokyo (HOT) was able to build the first permanent structure in Ogatsu since March 11th – the new community center known as O-Link House. HOT volunteers helped paint and did landscaping before O-Link House opened a few months ago. Surrounded by vast open spaces, this community center serves as a beacon of hope for the former residents of Ogatsu who still hope to return home someday.
In July we held a workshop at O-Link House for HOT volunteers to study the impact of our activities since the March 11th earthquake and tsunami and to consider how we can continue to support the Ogatsu area. The next day we supported the “Sea Urchin Festival,” a very popular event in Ogatsu over many years. This was the second such festival since March 11th and many former residents and visitors attended. HOT volunteers helped O-Link House serve drinks, food and summer festival sweets. It was very good seeing so many smiling faces in Ogatsu.
While delivering over 300 Halloween goodie bags to two elementary schools in the Ogatsu area, HOT volunteers recently paid a visit to O-Link House and were very happy to see how it is being used as a gallery for local artists, a place to train the next generation of inkstone carvers (an important traditional craft which was centered in Ogatsu prior to the tsunami) and a lovely café run by former Ogatsu residents serving delicious coffee, homemade cakes and chocolate and berry parfaits. It is very important to have provided a means for former Ogatsu residents to earn a livelihood once again in Ogatsu. Thank you for empowering them with such an opportunity through your generous donations.
With your continued support, on a going forward basis, we will continue to plan volunteer trips to Ogatsu to help maintain the community house, to clean local beaches so that people from the greater Sendai area will continue to visit the area and thereby support the local economy, to hold special events in Ogatsu to support and encourage those who are waiting to move back to Ogatsu and to support others in the Ogatsu area in their continued efforts to relaunch their former businesses or start new businesses.
Since our last report, HOT volunteers also continued to support a local farmer – Saito-san -- in Yamamoto-cho who needed assistance rebuilding one of his greenhouses and staking growing red and green pepper plants. He and his wife could not have done this without the support of volunteers given the nature of the tasks and the labor shortage in certain parts of Tohoku.
Going forward, we plan to organize more volunteer trips to further support Saito-san and others in Tohoku as they work hard to further rebuild their lives.
Thank you in advance for your continued support.
Through the inaugural HandsOn Tokyo Summer Teen Program, one of the high school participants chose as his project to bring US-style basketball training to children in the Tohoku region. With advise from former NBA stars, domestic professional and former professional basketball players, the volunteers put on a two-day program that sought to emphasize the enjoyment of basketball and to introduce a more American style of competitiveness.
Our regional partner is the Ofunato Junior Sports League, which is run by the city's social welfare department, but is largely organized and managed by the children's parents. Following the effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami, one of the consequences was the impact on local children and their physical education. With their parents struggling in many cases to get back on their feet, the Junior Sports League activities, understandably, became a very low priority. Thankfully, as the region has begun to make progress toward recovery, many of the sports activities have re-started; however, many teams are now consolidations of smaller groups reflecting the affects of the disaster on the population. Moreover, in response to the urgent need for housing, Ofunato built over 1,800 temporary houses to accommodate the disenfranchised, many of which were schoolyards (and one complex resided at the Massaki Elementary School (these buildings can be seen on the map below of the school as the row houses.) The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the City has coopted other public spaces, such as parks and play areas, for temporary housing. As such, outdoor sports is increasingly challenge and the local Sports Leagues wants to get the kids to play basketball.
Over the course of two days, Hands On Tokyo supported six volunteers to run the first Tohoku Youth Basketball Program, putting the kids through drills, playing skills games for prizes, and after a mini-draft, dividing the 24 elementary school children into four teams for a round-robbin tournament. We also provided t-shirts to all the participants so no one went home empty handed!
Following the program, the parents of the students treated the volunteers to a terrific barbecue at the local fire department. The homemade grill made from used propane tanks (ironically constructed by the firemen!) served the 50+ parents, athletes and volunteers. We were able to get feedback from the locals who praised the young volunteers for inspiring them to incorporate more fun into their training, increase competition and most importantly, increased the level of interest amongst the school children in basketball.
We hope to have this event as an annual event, including more area sports teams in the program.
On April 14, 2013 under a bright blue sky, we cut the ribbon to officially christen and open the O-Link House in Ogatsu. Thanks to the generosity of so many donors, including our special GlobalGiving donations and the matching programme, Hands On Tokyo was able to support the full construction cost, landscaping and furnishing of the O-Link House, the only newly constructed building in the district. We would like to relay the tremendous gratitude of the people of this tiny district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture that was so heavily impacted by the earthquake and resulting events of March 11, 2011 (the Events).
Background of Ogatsu Community Center Project:
Prior to the Events, Ogatsu had a population of 4,300 of which over 400 residents lost their lives or are still missing, and, due to the significant damage suffered by the district, only 900 survivors live there today. A significant cause of this negative demographic impact is the loss of much of the critical municipal infrastructure necessary for daily life, such as the grocery stores, restaurants, petrol stands, and civil support (police, fire, postal, medical, etc). Further, with ca. 90% of the homes in Ogatsu, damaged or destroyed, much of the little town is now designated a no-build zone, with limited space for temporary housing, which resulted in nearly three-quarters of the population evacuating out of Ogatsu, where they remain to this day. A plan is proposed to move the town to higher ground, but it remains unclear whether residents will come back to an area that was already suffering from an aging and declining population even before the earthquake.
As such, many survivors continue to live with uncertainty about their future. One of the biggest concerns is the tendency of the uprooted elderly, especially those living alone, to become isolated living in unfamiliar surroundings. The vision for the community center is to become a resource for the broader city of Ishinomaki and attract all ages beyond Ogatsu residents.
Through a generous donation of building materials from Intercontinental Trading Corp., Hands On Tokyo found a means to try to support the people of Ishinomaki. With further support from US-Japan Council and Major League Baseball Players Association, and countless locals, Hands On Tokyo (HOT) undertook to manage this important construction project. HOT organized and managed over  volunteers to support the construction of the facility lead managed by a professional contractor sourced by HOT in the town of Ogatsu.
O-Link House will house a café and library, a space for the preservation of industry and traditional culture (e.g., fishing and inkstone handcrafts), and a study and recreation space for all ages of people who live around Ogatsu as well as visitors from outside Ishinomaki-City. HOT is also committed to the long-term support of survivors and will continue to develop and implement volunteer-driven programs that utilize this precious resource in Ogatsu.
Thank you very much for all your tremendous continued support which means so much to the people of Tohoku and our dedicated volunteers.
Since our last report, we made five relief trips to Tohoku and held activities and events with nearly 130 volunteers, benefitting over 600 people.
We are very pleased to report that the construction of the Ogatsu Community Center has been going very well. They are now using locally produced slate recovered after the tsunami on the roof. Through generous donations from all over the world, we were able to send two groups of volunteers to assist with painting the exterior on February 9/10 and 16/17 as shown in the photograph below. We also supported the local economy by having the volunteers stay overnight in a small local minshuku (Japanese inn) in the hills just outside Ogatsu. We hope that – with your generous support – Hands on Tokyo volunteers will be able to continue to assist with painting andlandscaping activities during the final stages of construction and then with ongoing community events once the new Community Center opens around April 2013. As the tsunami washed away or severely damaged all but one of thebuildings and as so far this is the only new, non-temporary construction in Ogatsu since the tsunami, this is a tremendous source of encouragement for the people of Ogatsu and highlights the critical importance of ongoing volunteer initiatives in the region. Once completed, it will house a library, a café run by local residents, offices for the Machizukuri Council and the Recovery Project Committee, space for the preservation of local industry and traditional culture (such as fishing and ink stone crafts) and study and recreational areas.
After taking an overnight bus to Arahama Beach (outside Ogatsu), Hands on Tokyo volunteers worked on December 1st with members of the local community to make rice cakes for an “Ogatsu Canvas of Hope – Be Heard Our Vow to Recover” event where people wrote messages of hope for recovery on a 4x40 meter board facing the ocean andto those who lost their lives in the tsunami. Our volunteers also held a café – serving warm drinks and food to all those who participated in the event. Then, after taking an overnight bus to Ogatsu, Hands on Tokyo volunteers held a special Christmas café on December 15th – serving yakisoba, pancakes, hot dogs, cakes baked by volunteers in Tokyo and hot drinks and distributing handmade New Year’s decorations and blankets to members of the local community of all ages.
As so many people are still living in temporary housing in locations quite far from their former neighbors and support networks, Hands on Tokyo remains very committed to further supporting and encouraging the people of Ogatsu through cafes and other activities. We also hope that – with your generous support – we can continue helping local residents to rebuild their lives and restart their businesses. For example, in March we are arranging a volunteer weekend to help Saito-san and his wife, local farmers in Yamamoto-cho, prepare for the spring growing season.
Thank you in advance for making all this possible through your generous donations. We cannot do what we do without your support.
Thank you very much for all your tremendous support which means so much to the people of Tohoku. In September, Hands on Tokyo received the 2012 Points of Light Tribute Award for our continued Tohoku relief activities and, in November, we received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Ogatsu Rebuilding City Planning Committee. These awards recognize the importance of your generous donations and the hard work of many dedicated volunteers. We cannot do what we do without your support and, in the spirit of the American Thanksgiving holidays, we are very grateful for your continued support.
Since our last report, we made 5 relief trips to Tohoku and held activities and events with more than 60 volunteers, benefiting nearly 500 people.
We are very pleased to report that, since the groundbreaking ceremony on August 28th, the construction of theOgatsu Community Center is well underway. We were very excited to see the progress during our last volunteer trip on November 17th/18th as shown in the photograph below. In October, volunteers were able to contribute by removing spoiled boards from building frames so that the frames could still be used. We hope that – with your generous support – Hands on Tokyo volunteers will be able to continue to assist with carpentry, painting and landscaping activities during the construction phase and then with ongoing community events once the new Community Center opens around February 2013. As the tsunami washed away so many of the public and community buildings, this has been a tremendous milestone for the people of Ogatsu. The construction of this Community Center represents in a very real way the rebuilding of their community. Once completed, it will house a library, a café run by local residents, offices for the Machizukuri Council and theRecovery Project Committee, space for the preservation of local industry and traditional culture (such as fishing and ink stone crafts) and study and recreational areas.
A key part of our current volunteer activities in Tohoku involves supporting and encouraging local residents asthey continue to rebuild their lives. For example, we continue to support local farmers in Yamamoto-cho, in rebuilding their business. Since our last report, Hands on Tokyo volunteers have helped them clear new land andbuild a few more greenhouses so that they can grow more and different types of vegetables. We hope that Hands on Tokyo volunteers will be able to continue to support these and other local farmers and businesses after the newyear.
Hands on Tokyo volunteers also helped on two occasions to clean Arahama Beach (outside Ogatsu), which brought visitors and needed commerce to the local area prior to the March 11th disasters. The tsunami and subsequent typhoons washed away nearly one-third of the beach and left many branches and other debris on the beach. It was amazing to see how much of the natural beauty was restored after Hands on Tokyo volunteers finished working at the end of each day. We hope such efforts will further encourage the local community and encourage visitors to return to the Ogatsu area.
Hands on Tokyo volunteers also ran four cafes at festivals in Ogatsu and temporary housing in Yamamoto-cho – serving yakisoba, pancakes with fruit and whipped cream, hot dogs, sweets and hot drinks. The cafes are tremendously popular with many local residents stopping by to enjoy the food and camaraderie. At each festival, weserved more than 300 hot drinks including freshly brewed coffee! Food and beverages help people relax in an otherwise stressful environment and bring people together to share information and to simply say hello. As so manypeople are still living in temporary housing in locations quite far from their former neighbors and support networks, Hands on Tokyo remains very committed to further supporting and encouraging the people of Ogatsu through cafes and other activities. Thank you in advance for making this possible through your generous donations.
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