JAPAN: “Building Healthy Communities” Event at a Temporary Housing Facility in Ishinomaki

December 10th, 2011 – Group photo with members of “AEON 1% Club” who contributed to the AAR JAPAN “Building Healthy Communities” project (Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture)

Disaster survivors end up all too easily spending their days isolated behind closed doors. This is why AAR JAPAN’s “Building Healthy Community” project seeks to create opportunities for people to go out and interact. The project promotes networking events such as massage sessions or soup kitchens in the affected regions.

On December 12th, 2011, one of these “Building Healthy Community” events was held on a bypass construction site in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, where 500 people currently live in temporary housing. In addition to massages, recreational gymnastics classes and distribution of clothing for free, the kitchen team served “Imo-ni” (a regional soup specialty, made with beef, taro and vegetables in season) and “Miso Dengaku” (a konjac jelly snack served hot with bean paste dressing). This event was made possible thanks to the participation on site of 20 AEON scholarship students and “AEON 1% Club” staff members.

Severe Cold Sparks Demand for Winter Clothes

Residents of the temporary housing facility formed a long queue in front of the booth where winter clothes were given out for free. AEON scholarship student Ran Jianling (left) offers advice on coats.

At 9 am on the 10th of December, the voluntary helpers of “AEON 1% Club” together with AAR JAPAN staff members arrived at the venue in Ishinomaki. Once on site, they split up in 7 groups to prepare the dishes for the soup kitchen, put up the booths and get everything ready.

The clothing market opened at 10:30 am, with mainly winter clothes to be given away for free. And since it was a very cold day, the down jackets and long sleeved items went like hot cakes. Also high in demand were handmade tote bags that had been sent in by AAR JAPAN supporters from all over the country with Sunny-chan doll straps. “How cute!” “Look at this one here, what a lovely design!” and so on went the comments of the ladies while screening the bags for a tote of their choice.

Regional Cuisine at the Soup Kitchen

Food for takeout: “Let me get this for my neighbors, I haven’t seen them in a while.”

Meanwhile, the exchange student team at the soup kitchen was also busy. Under the guidance of a cook supervisor and equipped with masks, sanitary gloves and aprons, they had turned piles of ingredients into a delicious menu of “Imo-ni” and “Miso Dengaku”. One of the students, Trinh Ba Tuoc from Vietnam (Faculty of Engineering, Chiba University), shared his impressions as follows: “The people who have come to our soup kitchen today have been through the terrible experience of the tsunami. I am happy that they found our dishes enjoyable, we had a lot of positive comments about the food.” Many of the visitors came along with their children or spouse and took the opportunity to treat their fellows who couldn’t make it to the venue. So did one lady who ordered dishes to go for her neighbors. “I haven’t seen them in a while, you know”, she told us.

Massages for the Body, Chat for the Soul

One appointment followed the other at the massage room. By the window, a group of people shortening their wait time with a chat.

At the meeting space of the temporary housing facility, occupational and physical therapists offered massages. The hall quickly became a center of attraction, and those waiting for their turn used the occasion to chat, share the latest news or talk to the counselor about their worries. Mothers with children and elderly people also enjoyed the massages.

Endless row of makeshift houses: The team walked around the temporary housing facility and delivered soup kitchen food to those who could not make it to the venue.

For those residents who were not able to walk to the venue because of their advanced age or poor health, the team delivered soup kitchen food to their homes. Due to the long, narrow shape of the ground, the 236 makeshift houses of the facility are lined up side-by-side along a 1 km stretch of land: a condition that makes communication all the more difficult. We hope this project has helped to improve interaction between the people who live at the temporary housing complex.

Bridge to the World
After the event concluded, AEON staff and students, together with AAR JAPAN staff, paid a visit to the disaster-stricken area Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture. Sadly overwhelmed by the view of earthquake collapsed buildings and heaps of tsunami rubble, the team placed flowers on the debris and burnt incense to commemorate the victims of the tsunami.

Looking back, the participation of the exchange students turned out to be a happy surprise to the survivors at the temporary housing facility in Ishinomaki. “Thanks for coming such a long way!” were the words of many of the residents who chatted with the voluntary helpers. The overseas students, on the other hand, said they learned a lot from their trip to the disaster-affected areas. It has always been part of AAR JAPAN’s mission to act as a bridge between Japan and the world, and we are surely looking forward to have more events like this in the future!

AAR JAPAN staff Shuji Omatsu (left) talks to the overseas students about the height of the tsunami on the day of the disaster. In the background, ruins of a building hit by the tsunami.
At the disaster site of Onagawa (Miyagi Prefecture): the team offered flowers and incense in memory of the tsunami victims.

Miyo ITO, AAR JAPAN Public Relations Team, Tokyo