International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Japan’s tsunami: Helping ‘overlooked’ survivors

Help for tsunami survivors with disabilities

  • <p>Once a thriving fishing port and tourist resort, the city of Rikuzentakata in the Iwate prefecture of northeastern Japan was almost completely obliterated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. AAR, which operates in Iwate and other hard-hit prefectures, is focusing on assistance to survivors with disabilities, the elderly, and others who have difficulty accessing humanitarian aid. So far, over 45,000 people have been assisted by the group.</p>
  • <p>Asunaro Home is perched on a small mountain above Rikuzentakata. Established seven years ago, the facility offers people with autism and other mental disabilities opportunities to build vocational skills and earn an income. It's one of many local social service agencies supported by AAR.</p>
  • <p>More than half the people served by Asunaro Home have been living in crowded evacuation centers. &quot;Life in the centers with hundreds of other people is very constricting and unsettling,&quot; says Kazue Saijou, Asunaro&rsquo;s director. &quot;Asunaro is a safe place for people with disabilities to interact with one another.&quot; Although hot meals are provided at the centers, they rarely include fresh vegetables. AAR is providing produce such as the cabbages, greens and Daikon radishes displayed here by some of the Asunaro Home program's participants. The vegetables will be used in meals served at the facility.</p>
  • <p>Some 30 disabled people come to work at Asunaro Home every day, making tea bags and bamboo-paper stationery by hand. They also bake organic treats such as apple bread, citrus cakes and cookies. Before the quake, the snacks and crafts they produced were sold from a vending truck at local parks and train stations, generating income that helped Asunaro Home to provide its services.</p>
  • <p>Because Asunaro Home is not recognized by the Japanese government as an official evacuation center it has received no emergency financial assistance. To keep the agency afloat in the aftermath of the disaster, AAR is providing basic supplies as well as dried fruit and other baking ingredients. Now Asunaro Home is beginning to make and sell its snacks again. In the long run, AAR hopes to help Asunaro Home find new customers for its products beyond Rikuzentakata.</p>
  • <p>Although the tsunami spared Asunaro Home, the roads leading up to its mountaintop property were heavily damaged by the earthquake. Working with AAR, the IRC funded repairs to the roads and parking lot. &quot;The cracks were large enough to fit an adult,&quot; says Kazue Saijou. &quot;We were very worried about the safety of everyone.&quot; When it was unsafe to open the facility for the participants to come every day, Ms. Saijou used to visit them in the evacuation centers. They would plead with her to let them come back. &quot;Now that the road has been fixed,&quot; she says, &quot;Asunaro is open for everybody once again.&quot;</p>

The IRC continues to support the relief efforts of three Japanese aid groups assisting survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.  One of them, the Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR), is focusing on assistance to people with disabilities and others who have difficulty accessing humanitarian aid


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Help for tsunami survivors with disabilities

  • <p>Once a thriving fishing port and tourist resort, the city of Rikuzentakata in the Iwate prefecture of northeastern Japan was almost completely obliterated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. AAR, which operates in Iwate and other hard-hit prefectures, is focusing on assistance to survivors with disabilities, the elderly, and others who have difficulty accessing humanitarian aid. So far, over 45,000 people have been assisted by the group.</p>
  • <p>Asunaro Home is perched on a small mountain above Rikuzentakata. Established seven years ago, the facility offers people with autism and other mental disabilities opportunities to build vocational skills and earn an income. It's one of many local social service agencies supported by AAR.</p>
  • <p>More than half the people served by Asunaro Home have been living in crowded evacuation centers. &quot;Life in the centers with hundreds of other people is very constricting and unsettling,&quot; says Kazue Saijou, Asunaro&rsquo;s director. &quot;Asunaro is a safe place for people with disabilities to interact with one another.&quot; Although hot meals are provided at the centers, they rarely include fresh vegetables. AAR is providing produce such as the cabbages, greens and Daikon radishes displayed here by some of the Asunaro Home program's participants. The vegetables will be used in meals served at the facility.</p>
  • <p>Some 30 disabled people come to work at Asunaro Home every day, making tea bags and bamboo-paper stationery by hand. They also bake organic treats such as apple bread, citrus cakes and cookies. Before the quake, the snacks and crafts they produced were sold from a vending truck at local parks and train stations, generating income that helped Asunaro Home to provide its services.</p>
  • <p>Because Asunaro Home is not recognized by the Japanese government as an official evacuation center it has received no emergency financial assistance. To keep the agency afloat in the aftermath of the disaster, AAR is providing basic supplies as well as dried fruit and other baking ingredients. Now Asunaro Home is beginning to make and sell its snacks again. In the long run, AAR hopes to help Asunaro Home find new customers for its products beyond Rikuzentakata.</p>
  • <p>Although the tsunami spared Asunaro Home, the roads leading up to its mountaintop property were heavily damaged by the earthquake. Working with AAR, the IRC funded repairs to the roads and parking lot. &quot;The cracks were large enough to fit an adult,&quot; says Kazue Saijou. &quot;We were very worried about the safety of everyone.&quot; When it was unsafe to open the facility for the participants to come every day, Ms. Saijou used to visit them in the evacuation centers. They would plead with her to let them come back. &quot;Now that the road has been fixed,&quot; she says, &quot;Asunaro is open for everybody once again.&quot;</p>

The IRC continues to support the relief efforts of three Japanese aid groups assisting survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.  One of them, the Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR), is focusing on assistance to people with disabilities and others who have difficulty accessing humanitarian aid


All IRC Slideshows >
All Asia, Japan Slideshows >
 

I am visiting the Asunaro Home, a low, white building perched on a small mountain above Rikuzentakata -- one of the worst-hit cities in Japan’s devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.  Established seven years ago, the facility offers people with autism and other mental disabilities opportunities to build vocational skills and earn an income.  It’s one of many local social service agencies supported by the Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR), one of three Japanese aid groups funded by the IRC

“Disabled and elderly people are often the ones who get left behind in emergencies,” says Mariko Aoki, AAR’s program coordinator.  She says AAR targets its aid and relief efforts to support them because their special needs are often overlooked.

More than half of the people served by Asunaro lost their homes in the disaster and have been living in school gymnasiums and other evacuation centers.  

“Life in the centers with hundreds of other people is very constricting and unsettling,” says Kazue Saijou, Asunaro’s director. “Asunaro is a safe place for people with disabilities to interact with one another.”

Just inside the building is an airy room with large windows and traditional tatami mats.  Some 30 disabled people come to work here every day, making tea bags and bamboo-paper stationery by hand.  They also bake organic treats such as apple bread, cookies and yuzu (Japanese citrus) cake.  Many have become expert at challenging jobs, such as sorting through tiny tea leaves, which require real concentration and patience.  

Before the quake, the snacks and crafts they produced were sold from a vending truck at local parks and train stations, generating income that helped Asunaro to provide its services.  Now the facility doesn’t have enough money to continue operation.  

Although Japan’s defense forces deliver clean water to the facility each day for drinking and washing, Asunaro is not recognized as an official evacuation center -- so it has received no emergency financial assistance.  In order to keep it afloat in the aftermath of the disaster, AAR is providing basic supplies as well as dried fruit and other baking ingredients. Now Asunaro is beginning to make and sell its snacks again.  In the long run, AAR hopes to support Asunaro with marketing opportunities that will help it find new customers for its products beyond Rikuzentakata.  “The people who come here to work deserve all the help they can get,” says AAR’s Ms. Aoki.

Working with AAR, the IRC funded repairs of the roads that lead up to Asunaro as well as the facility’s parking lot, which were badly damaged in the earthquake.  “The cracks were large enough to fit an adult,” says Asunaro’s Kazue Saijou. “We were very worried about the safety of everyone.”  

When it was unsafe to open the facility for the participants to come every day, Ms. Saijou used to visit them in the evacuation centers. They would plead with her to let them come back.  “Now that the road has been fixed,” she says, “Asunaro is open for everybody once again.”

Ms. Saijou says that it was also important for her staff – some of whom found shelter at Asunaro after losing their own homes in the disaster – to be able to get back to work.  “It is also a way for all of us to restore normality and slowly move on with our lives,” she told me. 

She says she’s learned a lot from the people she serves.  

“When I started working at Asunaro, I didn’t know how to enjoy life,” she says. “These are people with pure, happy hearts who don’t think twice to be kind.”

 

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I'm trying to locate friends

I'm trying to locate friends in Japan. Have not been able to connect since the earthquake - not by email or registered mail. Can you help? I'm looking for the family of Naoya Moritani. Need names of agencies that may be able to help me search. Thank you.

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