| 16 April 2012

Visiting the Tohoku region with our donor, the United Church of Christ

At the end of March, CWS undertook a field trip to the disaster-affected area of Japan, along with one of our donor partners, the United Church of Christ (UCC). Ms. Susan Sanders from UCC had the opportunity to see for herself the good work conducted by CWS’s Japanese partner organizations in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures. She noted, “It was a real gift to see CWS working with both faith-based and secular partner organizations in Japan.”

Insights on the situation one year after the nuclear accident

In Fukushima, we met with Professor Norio Suzuki of Fukushima University, the grounds of which were being decontaminated during our visit. Professor Suzuki informed us about the continuing problems resulting from the nuclear accident at the Daichi nuclear power plant.

Decontamination of the campus grounds, University of Fukushima. Photo: CWS-Asia/Pacific.

Up to 150,000 people have been evacuated within Fukushima prefecture, he said, and a further 65,000 have been evacuated outside the prefecture. The evacuation into temporary housing, he noted, has resulted in divided families and one of the biggest issues within these housing units remains unemployment.

The nuclear plant used to employ 50,000 people, a high proportion of the coastal area’s population of 140,000, and many of the former workers, as well as farmers in the area who have lost land, have lost their field expertise. Red tape for land use is also affecting the government’s ability to relocate agricultural businesses. After one year, he notes, the Fukushima Recovery Law, which addresses issues such as whether the government will purchase contaminated land, is finally being discussed in the Japanese parliament.

Kodomo Fukushima: learning from Chernobyl to organize respite for the children of Fukushima

We also met with Hiroyuki Yoshino of Kodomo Fukushima, a locally-based community organization that is organizing the temporary relocation of groups of children from the prefecture to Hokkaido in the north of Japan to allow their bodies to recover from and expel the radiation they have been exposed to in Fukushima.

Kodomo Fukushima, supported by one of CWS’s key partners, the Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC), has been distributing face-masks for children through Fukushima city’s Social Welfare Council, and using this channel to garner support from parents to participate in the relocation program.

Susan Sanders of UCC and Mr. Hiroyuki Yoshino of Kodomo Fukushima, Fukushima city. Photo: CWS-Asia/Pacific.

“One of the challenges was to convince parents of the benefits of temporary relocation,” says Mr. Yoshino, “but now it’s a question of finding the space with educational resources that can accommodate up to 30 children for a month.” With the participants identified and progress underway, he is confident, however, that the first program will take place in the summer.

Mr. Yoshino’s interest and expertise in the area of radiation-affected communities stretches back to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 – he used to donate to a school in Chernobyl established by the Japanese photojournalist Ryuichi Hirokawa, who also set up the Chernobyl Children’s Fund Japan (CCFJ).

CCFJ’s work provided the model for Kodomo Fukushima and has also loaned some Geiger counters. We used one of these devices to measure the radiation in several spots in Fukushima city. The reading in one place, on a route used by children to walk to school, reached a staggering 113 microsieverts per hour. Ms. Sanders observed, “While everything looked just fine, the continual ticking of the Geiger counter was a constant reminder of the ongoing challenges the people of Fukushima have before them.”

Visiting residents of temporary houses

In Ishinomaki, we met with Peace Boat staff, who were making some wooden benches for temporary housing units. Ms. Maho Takahashi of Peace Boat took us into a temporary housing unit where residents were enjoying a tea party. The mood was very welcoming and warm.

Residents of a temporary housing unit and KSA staff say farewell after a tea party, Kesennuma city. Photo: CWS-Asia/Pacific.

Ms. Sanders of UCC spoke with residents and said, “Peace Boat volunteers offer an amazing gift of presence to those forced to live in temporary housing. By providing the simple hospitality of tea parties, Peace Boat volunteers provide a life affirming space for survivors to come out of isolation.”

We also visited another temporary housing unit in Kesennuma city, where another of our partners, SEEDS Asia, and a local organization, Kesennuma Reconstruction Association (KRA), have been organizing tea parties for the residents. The people were again incredibly hospitable and appreciative of CWS’s support to their communities.

Our trip to the Tohoku region left us with no doubt about the value of the work being undertaken by our partners on the ground, and the value of the donations of all of our donor partners, such as UCC. Reflecting upon the visit, Ms. Sanders commented, “Its been a very eye-opening experience and I’m grateful Church World Service has made the commitment to accompany the survivors on the long, uncertain path forward.”

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