AAR Japan held Christmas parties at four kindergartens and children’s houses1) in Soma City and Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture on December 24th and 25th, 2013. It was the 3rd Christmas after the 3.11 disaster. Many organizations came to Fukushima Prefecture and held events for a while after the disaster. However, as time went by, the number of such events has decreased. Today most of the events are held by the local institutions such as kindergartens and children’s houses themselves. AAR Japan, on the other hand, remains committed to providing long-term support to the institutions that were severely affected by the 3.11 disaster and are yet to achieve full recovery. AAR visited children’s houses where we held Christmas parties in the previous year and kindergartens, which received no Christmas-related support from any aid groups in 2013 to give Christmas presents to the children.
At a kindergarten in Minamisoma City, children marched into the play room with Christmas music, and we read a picture book to them. The children were absorbed in listening to their favorite picture book. After the storytelling, the children heard someone saying “Ho Ho Ho”. As they wondered whose voice that was, Santa Claus showed up from the stage with a big white sack. The children were not notified about this special guest and thus were very surprised. They all welcomed Santa Claus with delight. Soon after, Santa Claus found himself surrounded by the children.
The children received Christmas stockings filled with candies from Santa Claus, and they sang a song and played music with bells and castanets in return for his kindness.
Children really enjoyed the time with Santa Claus, and they gifted him a card at the end of the event. The principal of the kindergarten told us, “We could not invite Santa Claus at our own Christmas party this year. We were happy to see children having a fun time with him”
1) Children’s house is a welfare facility, which promotes children’s health and development through offering a variety of play.
All the photos were taken at the kindergarten at Minamisoma City on December 24th, 2013
The sixth folk music tour was held at 10 temporary housing complexes in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture from November 11th to 13th. The performance of ‘Minyo-jin’, a folk music team which consists of folk musicians and popular entertainer Mr. Nekohachi EDOYA, amused and cheered up as much as 277 participants. The temporary housing complexes where we visited accommodate evacuees from Okuma Town, Tomioka Town and Naraha Town, which suffer immense and long-lasting damage caused by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
At the venue before the concert, the audience sat still without much expectation on their face. However, once Mr. Nekohachi stroke up the cheerful introduction with his soothing smile, the atmosphere gradually softened and the audience began to relax and enjoy. The audience heartily laughed at Mr. Nekohachi’s performance of mimicking animals and avidly listened to the powerful folk music. As the program proceeded, the audience stood up and started to dance together with the performers and after the concert, many of the audience rushed to the performers to tell how amazed they were at their performance.
Here are some comments from the participants.
A 76 year-old lady who evacuated from Naraha Town told us, ‘I have been unable to go out since I have suffered shingles, but I was really looking forward to this concert. After the 3.11 disaster, I moved from temporary housing complex to complex seven times and I felt so sad to have nowhere to settle at this old age. I am now growing dahlia in planters but I miss the large garden where I grew various vegetables and flowers’. In the last part of the concert, she happily joined the dancing circle of the audience and performers. ‘I really enjoyed dancing to ‘Soma Bon-uta’. It made me forget bad things’, she beamed.
A lady in her seventies excitedly told us that at the concert she was able to meet one of her friends who used to live in Okuma Town together. The friend came from a temporary housing complex in Aizu City to join the concert and it was their first time to see each other since the 3.11 disaster. ‘I feel so happy to see my friend after 2 years and 8 months, thanks to the concert. Thank you for coming all the way to Fukushima Prefecture,’ the lady said with a deep bow.
The degree of isolation in temporary housing complexes has become deeper and deeper as the period of evacuation had been prolonged. In order to ease this isolation, AAR Japan has organized various events aiming at promoting interaction among residents of the temporary housing complexes. In June 2013, we started organizing cooking classes as one of those events.
By carrying out a number of community events, it has been observed that men were less active in participating in such events compared to women. It was not uncommon that there was no male participant in the events. Aiming at inviting more male residents, we organized an event named ‘Men’s Cooking Class’. The event was held on July 3rd, 2013 at the community space of Onodai Daini Temporary Housing Complex in Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture and 14 residents including 3 men participated.
The menu of the first cooking class was pizza, which was easy to cook even at home. The participants enjoyed making pizza dough and two kinds of sauces made from fresh vegetables. People actively chatted with one another while tasting delicious pizzas commenting ‘That’s very tasty’, ‘I haven’t been able to enjoy cooking since I moved here because the kitchen in the temporary housing is too small, but today I really enjoyed cooking with everyone’.
Onodai Daini Temporary Housing Complex accommodated many residents who had worked in fishery prior to the 3.11 disaster. One of the participants, Mr. Kusano (64), a fisherman from Ohama, Soma City told us, ‘I used to cook Sashimi and Tempura (Japanese fritter) on my boat with the freshly caught fish’. The sea of Soma City used to be a very rich fishing ground and more than 100 species had been harvested; however, at present only 15 species are fished on a trial basis due to the concern over radiation contamination of the sea triggered by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. There is still no prospect of resuming fishing as they used to.
While working in the disaster affected areas, we sometimes meet those who cannot help crying talking about their disaster-related experiences. We at times get lost for words listening to their heart-wrenching comments such as ‘I am the only one survived in my family’ and ’I will not be able to return home in my lifetime’. However, seeing the evacuees’ smiles at social interaction events always tells us that there is still much we can do.
From 17th to 19th June, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) organized the tour of concert events held at community spaces in temporary housing complexes in Fukushima Prefecture. The popular entertainer Nekohachi EDOYA and 6 folk singers and musicians entertained the evacuees living in the temporary housing complexes, making them laugh from the bottom of their heart.
The tour was scheduled to cover 10 venues in just 3 days and the total number of the audience for 10 concerts amounted to 402 people. Many of them were elderly people living in the temporary housing complexes, who are unable to return home due to the concern over radiation exposure caused by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Led by the cheerful, fun and smooth MC by Mr. Nekohachi, who is well known for his performance of mimicking animals, the event began with the vigorous session of tsugaru shamisen (traditional Japanese string instrument). The audience then enjoyed powerful folk songs performed by 3 folk singers including Mr. Masao Suzuki, who was originally from Soma City of Fukushima Prefecture. Needless to say, Mr. Nekohachi’s performance of mimicking a bush warbler was very popular among the audience, making them laugh heartily and helping them forget the stress from their daily lives. In the latter part of the event, the performers answered the requests from the audience and sung several local folk songs originated from the area, which moved many of the audience to tears with nostalgic feelings. At the finale of the event, ‘Soma Bonka’ was performed. As soon as the song began, the audience voluntarily stood up one after another and started dancing making a big circle. Soma Bonka is a song that reminds people of a sense of unity among the community- it used to be played at ‘Bon dance festival’, a Japanese seasonal festival usually held by local communities. After the communities in Soma area were broken apart as the disaster survivors evacuated and were dispersed to different temporary housing complexes, they had few chances for community gathering and greatly missed it. The audience danced lightly and cheerfully as if they were back in the old days.
After the event, many of the audience gave remarks that they felt so brightened up, which had not happened for a while. There used to be many of such events in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake but the number significantly decreases after two years have passed since the disaster. Here are some remarks from the audience.
‘This is my first time to attend such a fun event. Many people lost their lives because of the tsunami in this area and I myself was drawn as well. I am feeling better day by day but I’ve never had such a cheerful feeling.’ - A woman aged 62, who participated in the event at the community space at Gongenzawa Temporary Housing Complex
‘I have not laughed so heartily for a long time. Right after the earthquake and tsunami, I was just struggling to survive and did not really think about my life. Now that I have more time, I often think about the hardship I am facing and this makes me feel sad. I often see people crying but today we could all laugh together. It was really good.’ A woman who participated in the event at the community space at Ogawa Kouen Temporary Housing Complexes
GlobalGiving's site visit to AAR Japan's project sites in Fukushima Prefecture
GlobalGiving’s Director of Programs, Ms. Britt LAKE visited AAR Japan’s project sites in Fukushima Prefecture on March 26th. In this report AAR Japan will introduce two of our activities from the site visit.
Minami-Soma City: Radiation Dosimeters installed at Workshops for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)
Just over 20 km out of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant lies Minami-Soma City where many evacuees from within 20 km radius came to live. In Minami-Soma City, an NGO called JIN operates a workshop named “Salad Farm”, providing training and working opportunities for PWDs. Originally JIN was located in Namie-Town, only 9 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, but due to the high radiation contamination JIN along with many of its former employees evacuated to Minami-Soma City.
It is the 2nd year for JIN’s staff members to cultivate their farm land. This land was originally covered by bushes and nothing was grown. The staff members spent 2 years clearing the bushes and cultivating the land in addition to building few green houses to protect the land from radiation. Now they are able to harvest several types of vegetables including potatoes, carrots and cabbages for sale.
To promote sales of their products, with the help of GlobalGiving, AAR Japan installed a radiation dosimeter at Salad Farm so that they can measure the contamination level of the harvested vegetables. People in Fukushima Prefecture are still exposed to radiation on a daily basis; and in order to ensure steady sales of crops, thereby securing the income for the PWDs at Salad Farm, it is crucial to show that Salad Farm’s products are safe for consumption.
Shinchi Town: Playground Equipment at Temporary Housing Complexes
After visiting Salad Farm, Ms. Britt and AAR staff members moved on to Suzumezuka Temporary Housing Complex and Shinbayashi Temporary Housing Complex both in Shichi Town, Fukushima Prefecture, approximately 50 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In both temporary housing complexes, AAR Japan had installed playground equipment in cooperation with GlobalGiving.
After the March 11th 2011 disaster, majority of schools in Fukushima Prefecture restricted outdoor activities including Physical Education classes. The consequence was astonishing. According to the result of the 2012 health check up conducted by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology at all the public schools in Japan, children in Fukushima had the highest rate of obesity for nearly all age groups while children aged 5 through 11 were in serious situation. Children of 5, 6, and 8 years old have twice as much risk of being overweight as the country’s average while for those aged 5-9, 14, and 17, children in Fukushima recorded the highest percentage of obesity in the nation.
To alleviate the effect of restricted outdoor activities at schools and to improve the health condition of children in temporary housings, we installed the playground equipment. We believe small help such as installation of playground equipment can make a big difference for small children to be physically active to have healthier life in future.
Besides the two activities reported above, we are currently implementing providing safe drinking water to kindergartens and nurseries in Fukushima, and we are also holding community gathering events periodically. All these activities are supported by generous donations that we receive from GlobalGiving. We appreciate every bit of help we receive.
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