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The Tohoku Relief Mission

Meg Kitano

On March 11th, 2011, what eventually became known as the Great East Japan Earthquake struck off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, spawning a massive tsunami that wiped out a 600 kilometer stretch of the Sanriku coastline, and triggering a nuclear meltdown at the Daiichi Fukushima nuclear power plant. In response to this unprecedented tragedy, TFI members, friends, and other concerned individuals from across the country began working together to provide support for the victims in any way possible.

Early Ministry: Singing, Emergency Supplies, and Heart care

On April 2nd, the day after the Tohoku Expressway was re-opened for the general public, the first little team of four volunteers from Chiba and Shizuoka prefectures set out on what became a 10 day, 3000+ km trip across the three prefectures most affected by the earthquake. The full story can be read on http://tohokutrip.blogspot.com.

“…It is difficult to put into words what the first few weeks were like. The shock of seeing endless kilometers of buildings completely destroyed, the heart wrenching stories of people who had lost family members and everything they owned, the overwhelming gratitude…I have never experienced anything like it. At many places we visited, we were the first people who had come to sing, or to cheer up the children. Up until that point all the help that had come was emergency supply related. I have never seen so many tears, or received such sincere thanks before in my life.” – Gene Kato, TFI member from Noda

To date, the Tohoku Relief Mission has made seven heart care related trips between April – July, in coordination with TFI Shizuoka, Let’s Party Tokyo, MiA singing group, the Matsuoka family, and others, bringing music, children’s entertainment, and heart care to thousands of victims living in emergency evacuation centers all over the Tohoku region. More than 400 CDs of healing music and thousands of tracts have been distributed.

July Relief Trips

Thanks to the funding of Activated Ministries, the Tohoku Relief Mission was able to make 6 relief trips from Chiba in the month of July with supplies and volunteers. More than 15 deliveries of 30+ van loads of goods were made to victims living in temporary housing units and evacuation centers in Minamisanriku-cho. Relief supplies distributed included bottled water, perishable and nonperishable food, toiletries, kitchenware, condiments, and household appliances for temporary housing units, toys and books for children, summer clothing, and more. Also delivered were boxes of Mottos for Success calendars, donated by Activated Ministries.

Future Projects and the current situation in Minamisanriku-cho

There is a noticeable difference between different areas in the pace of the clean up and reconstruction efforts, and the relocation and provision for the disaster victims. In Minamisanriku-cho, about 90% of the city was destroyed, including the government offices and city hall, with only 4 workers from the city office left alive after the tsunami. Due to these and many other factors, the need is much greater, and the cleanup much slower than in the other cities we have visited. The coordination of relief supplies and volunteers has been sorely inadequate, which is why Mr. Miura and others like him began appealing for help through non-governmental channels in the first place. The news has been rife with stories of official supply storage sites filled to overflowing, forcing governments to stop deliveries, while just meters away people were suffering without basic necessities due to bureaucratic red tape and the lack of communication between governmental organizations.

The central government is pushing to have all victims moved to temporary housing units by the end of summer. However, the rules dictate that once they move out of evacuation centers the victims are no longer eligible for relief supplies and have to support themselves completely. As most of the city was destroyed, people’s jobs and businesses were destroyed along with their houses, leaving many victims unable to support themselves. The temporary housing units are basically empty prefabs, with only the barest minimum of appliances. There are also no shops left in the city, so people have to travel for more than an hour to the next town to buy anything. Many people no longer have the means to travel in any case, as their cars were washed away by the tsunami.

We hope to continue to provide support to these dear people in the future. If we can continue with the delivery of basic necessities, along with providing victims with heart care, emotional support, and friendship, it will enable them to focus on rebuilding their lives and businesses, and speed up the reconstruction effort in Minamisanriku-cho and other tsunami affected areas.

Volunteer Tours

While our primary objective is to provide aid to the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, a secondary objective has been to raise awareness of the situation, and to enable those with the desire to help in some way, to be a part of the relief effort.

We believe that helping others is an integral part of life; without giving, life becomes dry and unfulfilling, an endless pursuit of personal happiness to no end. We hope to give as many people as possible, and the youth of Japan in particular, an opportunity to experience the joy of helping others. To this end, we have been trying to involve as many youth as we can in our volunteer trips. Most of these volunteers don’t have the financial ability to go on their own, and we are very grateful to Activated Ministries, the TFI Japan Aid Fund, and others, as without their generous support none of these trips would have been possible.

At this point, nearly 5 months after the disaster, the level of interest has definitely died down. Much of Japan has gone back to business as usual, aside from the ever present fear of radiation. The flow of supplies has slowed considerably as well, which is representative of the overall lack of care for others that pervades modern society more and more. We believe that creating opportunity for people to personally go to the affected areas and interact with the victims is one of the best ways to raise awareness of the ongoing needs of the Tohoku region, and as such is an important part of the reconstruction effort.