Children painting on playground equipment
JEN has been involved in a wide range of activities including helping victims make a living and restoring their communities since the immediate disaster of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture. Our activities to restore communities were conducted mainly in the Ohara district located in the center of the Oshika peninsula.
Two-thirds of the district was left homeless by the tsunami, forcing them to live in shelters, while the other third was able to retain their houses. As a result, the difference in living conditions drove the two sides even further. However, the difference was overcome by the united efforts of local people to resume their traditional festivities and to settle in a higher ground together.
On March 29, about forty volunteers from inside and outside of the district participated in housecleaning for the Ohara Community Center and other facilities. Although the center was affected by the tsunami, it has been restored by volunteers across the country. The center has also provided free accommodation for volunteers in the peninsula, where no other accommodations were available after the disaster. Although the local authorities have planned to demolish the center, it still serves as a vital space for the community to maintain connections among people since no alternative spaces have been constructed.
The participants were divided into three groups to share the cleaning work: the Ohara Community Center; a conversation lounge attached to temporary quarters; other places including a park; small library, and bus station. The first group was assigned to the Ohara Community Center and provided thorough cleanings including neglected places, airing out tatamis and bedding, cleaning overhead lights and swabbing floors, and wiping windows and screens. In the end, the center was so transformed that the locals hardly recognized it, one of them saying “Did we have this bright a room?” The second group worked on fixing fences and painting walls and playground equipment, while the third group cleaned air conditioners, fans, and windows. After completing their assignment, both groups prepared “Okuzukake”, an Ishinomaki specialty dressed in a sauce made from arrowroot starch, for lunch with the help from women taking shelters in temporary quarters.
The volunteers and the locals had cheerful conversations over lunch, enjoying rice balls, “Okuzukake”, and marinated wakame seaweed. According to the impression by a volunteer, “Having contact with [JEN], I’ve realized that because [JEN has] the mentality to cherish a spirit of mutual assistance that can be positive even in tough living conditions.” A word of thanks from the locals was that, due to the help from volunteers, they were able to face difficulties after the disaster, and they were very happy to see the volunteers again. The day’s activity was over after the participants shook hands with each other. At the end of the activity, the locals said “Come visit us again!”
Parks Completed: Children’s Society to Restart
On December 7 last year JEN completed rebuilding two ravaged parks attached to the housing areas in Kamikama district located in the southwest of Ishinomaki city. The aim of the project was to rebuild parks that will help the recovery of the children’s associations.
The project reached its completion after a range of efforts were made to help recover children’s association starting with a planning session with the locals. Events to strengthen community ties at the park under reconstruction work included mowing grass and exercising together in the morning to instructions on the radio. (Japanese school children have a custom of gathering in a park in the morning on their summer break to do exercise while listening to instructions and musical accompaniment on a radio broadcast)
On the day of the ceremony to celebrate the park’s completion, JEN had the children put finishing touches to the park such as assembling benches, painting fences and planting plants and flowers, so that the children could use the park as their “self-made park” for years to come. The children were jumping up and down with joy upon the completion of the park.
JEN interviewed a few children after the two parks were built, and we got the following feedback: “I use to play inside the house, but now I play outside for longer time than before.”; “I’m happy because I can play with my friends in the park.” We now see children playing as well as elderly people socializing and enjoying the scenery around them. Hence, the park has become a place where people of all age groups within the local communities can relax. The completion of the parks has given momentum to the locals’ efforts to restart “children’s association”. In early February, a conference organized by the children’s association was held for the first time since the earthquake, where community members took the lead in forming groups, planning events and so on.
This year on February 22, a local event was hosted by “the children’s organization” for the first time since the earthquake. The event featured duty as well as pleasure; participants made planters for the coming spring, and then enjoyed pounding mochi (rice-cake). Children performed Soran dance in happi (a festival costume), gifted to the children’s association by JEN. One of the participants said, “We must take good care of happi in order to make use of it in our future activities.”
One could see the participants gathered around the children’s vigorous performance, smiling and cheering. It indeed was an event that was enjoyed by the participants and the audience. Thanks to the completion of park rebuilding, the children’s association restarted its activities. We hope it continues its activities in conjunction with local communities in the Kamikama district. JEN will continue its efforts to support developing local communities so that one day JEN finish its assistance, the local community could continue its activities on their own to provide comfortable and safe environment for children.
Soran dance in happi