In ghost towns lying in the shadow of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, cows and dogs roam the streets.
Buses and cars sit atop buildings, washed there by the tsunami that hit the country’s northeastern coast on 11 March 2011. Debris mars the landscape.
When Kazuhiko Ozawa, Rotary Foundation trustee and chair of the Rotary East Japan Earthquake Recovery Fund Committee, talks about the Rotary-led recovery efforts in the region, his smile masks the heaviness he feels. To deal with the new reality, he says, he must persuade himself to be upbeat.
Many people affected by the disaster are also coping with difficult emotions, and Rotarian projects have begun to help them. Initially, Ozawa says, funding proposals focused on urgent necessities – food, shelter, clothing. With time, the work has shifted from meeting physical needs to offering emotional support; projects have provided help lines, counselors, and libraries where orphaned children can find comfort.
“We found out that people were depressed. Some wanted to commit suicide,” he says. “They had lost hope.”
The Rotary Japan 2011 Disaster Recovery Fund collected nearly $8 million by the time the fund closed on 30 June. A little over $1 million went to Matching Grants in the months immediately after the earthquake and tsunami. Since 1 July 2011, the fund has been managed by Ozawa’s committee and has supported more than 160 projects.
The disaster recovery fund covers 25 percent of a project’s cost; clubs and districts are responsible for raising the rest. Ozawa expects that the efforts supported by the fund will have a total impact of $32 million. (Sister clubs and districts in other countries have funded other projects on their own.) The six committee members, all of whom are Rotarians in Japan, cover their own meeting and travel costs.
Projects have supplied schools with items including radiation counters and, in a city where the tsunami destroyed warehouses full of (now rotting) fish, screens to keep flies out. Rotarians have purchased medical equipment for hospitals and vehicles to deliver supplies, remove debris, and provide transportation.
Getting back to work
They are helping residents get back to work by giving new tractors, greenhouses, and dairy cattle to farmers; building a temporary chamber of commerce in one city to help businesspeople map out their recovery efforts; and purchasing fishing nets to replace those that had washed away. The fishermen were so grateful, Ozawa says, they gave Rotarian volunteers the first fish they caught.
“There are countless examples like this,” he says.
In Japan, Ozawa says, the tradition of Rotary has been a philosophical one.
“You talk about the ideal of Rotary, the object of Rotary, or the vocational ethics, those kinds of things,” he says. “This disaster, although it was unfortunate, has awakened people to what they can do.”
In one city, he knows of four clubs that thought they would disband after the disaster.
“But when they saw people from all over the world contributing money and trying to support them, they changed their minds.”