Tohoko best aided by NPOs

The Japan Times
Tohoku revival said best aided by NPOs

LONDON — Developing the nonprofit sector is key to reviving the Tohoku region from the damage inflicted by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to a British husband and wife who recently visited the area. Phillida and Christopher Purvis say more money and support are required to expand the activities of various charities that are trying to restore a sense of community in the towns destroyed in the disasters.

The couple, who have long-standing ties with Japan, have just toured the three affected prefectures with British Ambassador David Warren and recently presented their findings to the Japan Society in London. The organization has raised £636,000 ($995,000) and is inviting funding applications from local charities. Phillida Purvis, who sits on the society's earthquake fund committee, told members, "Since March, many organizations have been born but they have limited experience and no certainty of financial support for their survival, when the initial postcrisis funding support and help of volunteers dry up. "This emergency support, we also learned, often comes with strings attached. There is evidence that donors arrive with their own funding agenda, which has the effect in some cases of exploiting the local people for the sake of donors' wishes — a classic development pitfall." 

The Japan Society has teamed up with the Sendai Miyagi NPO Center to identify local projects worthy of funding. The couple told how small nonprofit organizations are making a real difference across Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. During their visit six months after the disaster, the couple toured several towns that have become synonymous with the tragedy, including Soma, Rikuzentakata, Ishinomaki, Kesennuma and Kamaishi. They were in touch with various projects. They met a man who rents out vans to restaurants wanting to make home deliveries, and a social entrepreneur who has set up a makeshift shopping mall in Kesennuma. Other schemes have focused on offering counseling to help people overcome the difficulties they are facing.

The Purvises said that one of the biggest problems is creating a sense of community among the approximately 90,000 people who are still living in temporary accommodations provided by the government. They want to encourage projects that connect these people with towns and villages that survived the disaster and where communities are more established. Christopher Purvis, who is chairman of the Japan Society, said one of the biggest problems is overcoming the sense of apathy and despair in some of the affected areas. He told members that he found "an emptiness" and "feeling of no future" among some of the victims, with cases of domestic violence, depression and suicide on the rise. He said, "The very stoicism which has been so admired by commentators is also now, in some cases, sowing the seeds of destruction." He said the government has done "pretty well" coping with the disaster, but there are "frustrations about the slowness" of decisions on rebuilding shops and homes. He also slammed Japan's data protection laws that hamper people searching for missing friends and neighbors. But he is optimistic about the role the nonprofit sector can play, saying "only a long-term recovery can come from supporting a sustainable NGO (nongovernmental organization) sector."

Phillida Purvis said Japan needs to strengthen the "intermediary and network" organizations, like the Sendai Miyagi NPO Center, which provides support and advice to smaller charities. She agreed one of the biggest difficulties is trying to foster new community leaders in Tohoku. She said, "There's a need for support in the long-term to help encourage people who need energy, imagination and resilience."


Stay, play indoors

Respecting the wishes of parents, many elementary and junior high schools in the city of Fukushima are limiting the time their students spend outside even after the completion of soil decontamination efforts, according to local board of education officials. Of the city's 72 public elementary and junior high schools, only 14 allowed their students to freely engage in outdoor activities as of Sept. 20, even after the removal of surface soil from schoolyards tainted by radioactive substances originating from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, they said.

Source: The Japan Times,  Oct. 25, 2011



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