Update from Jane Best, President and CEO of RIJ:
I have just returned from my summer break in London, where I took the opportunity to visit the office of International Rescue Committee UK. RIJ has funded several projects through IRC-UK and they are old friends, so it was good to catch up with them. In 2009, I visited a Skills Training programme run by IRC in Liberia, and in 2010, RIJ funded the upgrading of a children’s stabilisation Centre in Dabaab camp in north-east Kenya. This Centre is doing great work in the present crisis with refugees streaming in from famine-affected parts of Somalia.
Since I have been back in Japan, I have met with two groups working on projects in the Tohoku region. Now that the initial relief phase is over, it seems people are thinking more about the future. There is obviously still a lot to do in terms of cleaning up but people need a focus and some form of income. RIJ was waiting for this phase as it is becoming clearer what communities want. Lori Henderson, from the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and I met with Professor Okada from Sophia University to learn about the Utatsu Initiative. The Utatsu community in Minami Sanriku are planning to set up a tented market area where the community can trade, shop and meet together. The market would serve as a temporary focal point for the local community as well as provide much needed livelihoods. Lori and I hope to visit Utatsu next week.
Kazuko Kon and I then met Mr. Takita from Peace Power Project, working with farmers badly affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Many farmers have not just lost farmland and equipment, but are also faced with the problem of paying off loans on equipment that has been lost. There was no insurance for this. I was encouraged to learn that many members of the farmers’ group are in their 30s and 40s which bodes well for the long-term.
Six months on from the disaster, people are asking what the government is doing. They see no point in waiting for the government to act and are seeking their own answers. This will certainly help communities grow stronger. However, they are also asking what has happened to the more than 3,000 oku yen that is said to have been received through charitable donations from around the world. I am pleased to learn that people are seeking accountability and hope that civil society action will bring about some change in various ways.