For the past year I’ve been communicating with the great staff at the Association of Aid and Relief (AAR) in Japan, but last Sunday I was able to meet them in person and see firsthand the fabulous work that AAR is doing in the earthquake and tsunami affected areas in Tohoku that you have helped to support.
Our day started early as we made our way up to Sendai – about two hours north of Tokyo on the bullet train – where we were met by the AAR team. They took us to visit three of the projects GlobalGiving donors are helping to support in the area around Ishinomaki.
On our first stop I met Sao Abe. Mr. Abe was an Oyster fisherman on an island in Miyagi Prefecture before the earthquake and tsunami destroyed his home and livelihood on March 11 last year. With his home gone, he was moved into a temporary shelter closer inland with his elderly mother. Mr. Abe is a jokester with a natural smile and was part of a group that Mari, GlobalGiving’s President, and I met with during a site visit He lives in a temporary shelter reserved for elderly or handicapped people with 35 other families. The community center where we met is a small room that serves as a meeting place where the residents can talk, drink tea, read books, and start to reform the communities they lost in the disaster. AAR provides services to help the people living in the temporary shelters to cope with the disaster and start to build a new community. We joined the group in stretching exercises led by a physical therapist AAR brings in to help support the residents in the shelter. They spoke highly of AAR’s involvement in the temporary shelter and with the people who live there. During our visit, GlobalGiving's president, Mari Kuraishi, delivered cards with messages from GlobalGiving donors.
Next we visited a “container mall” that was built by AAR. Before the tsunami hit Tohoku, many residents had small businesses that they had built their entire lives. When their businesses, and the buildings they were housed in, were lost in the disaster, many families felt hopeless. AAR supported the construction of a temporary mini-mall built from containers that currently house eight small businesses. The best part for us was not just seeing the construction of the building and the operation of the shops, but also to see the cooperation among the various non-profit groups as well. AAR built the main structure, but two other organizations had worked with them to improve the construction and support the businesses.
Finally, we visited a newly built fish market that was helping fishing families and small business owners rebuild their livelihoods. In this case AAR hadn’t built the structure, but had supplied the refrigerator that was necessary in order to run a fish shop. Without the refrigerator, the owners wouldn’t have been able to sell the fish before they go bad. Nicolette, our AAR host, explained to us that some of what AAR does is to provide the small – but necessary - things that people need to start to rebuild their lives. Because of this, even small donations go a long way toward positive change for people in the Tohoku region. Thanks for supporting these efforts!
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