An article contributed by Mr. Tomo Oikawa, a representative director of the Focal Relief Center Miyagi and the Tasketto Center for Independent Living.
Before I start with this essay, I wish to express my heartfelt condolence to the victims of the Great Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake, and my deepest sympathy to the disaster-affected persons.
It was 2:46 p.m., March 11th 2011, when the Tohoku and Kanto areas were struck by the mega earthquake of level 7 by the Japanese seismic scale, or Magnitude 9.0, then was followed by the monstrous tsunami. At this critical moment, I was in a meeting at the office of Tasuketto. As it shook harder, all that I and my colleagues could do was nothing but just to protect ourselves by going under the desk or to cover our heads with our hands sitting on a wheelchair.
We then went to a temporary shelter which was established by the local government, but we had to go back to the Tasuketto office after we spent six hours there. It was so crowded with the evacuees that there was no room to lie down and even difficult to go to the toilet. The office was fortunately able to use water and heater, and I spent the first night after the quake with several people at the office. In the next two days, the office turned out to be a shelter and the headquarters for the disaster relief to secure our lives and to make sure if our peers were safe and we collected foods and emergency items.
We also started to distribute relief goods sent from the individuals and organizations, including Japan Council on Independent Living Centers, Yumekaze Fund, and the Nippon Foundation to the victims with disabilities. We took every means to reach people who were in need, by distributing the flyers and advertising. More than 200 individuals and organizations have donated, and are keep donating the items we need. We were particularly grateful to the petrol that was collected and sent from throughout the country. Let me express my gratitude again to every person who extended their helping hands. Distribution of the relief goods has been the core activity of the relief center.
The devastation of the disaster is characterized by tsunami. In the central areas which weren’t affected by tsunami, infrastructures have nearly resumed to their normal service and shops and retailers have been re-opened as they used to be. It is contrast to the ravaged coastal areas. The primary activity of the Focal Relief Center Miyagi is to conduct researches and to respond to the needs in the coastal areas. At the same time, prompt remittance of the contribution is seriously demanded to resume the closed disaster-affected community centers (such as workshops and day service centers), as well as to launch a new office of disaster relief headquarters for persons with disability. We have already sent contribution to six cases. The next step is to re-build the foundation of the community which requires discussion and social movement. We will have to keep thinking how to create and energize it and take actions.
As I have written in Yumegoyomi Kazedayori, a newsletter of Yumekaze Fundation, the population, goods and economy have been over concentrated in Sendai, the capital city of the Miyagi Prefecture. Tasuketto is the only independent living center in the prefecture, and I have to say that this reveals the fact that the independent living movement did not take roots in the area for the last 16 years. It is true that the area lacks sufficient social resources, but it is also due to the movement, indeed. We wish to take parts in the community when the people in this area rebuild the cities and prefecture. The staff members and volunteers of the relief center are working hard for our mission every day and I cannot forget what one of them said, “It’s totally up to us on what we reconstruct on a vacant lot”. A vacant lot has an infinite potential of our future based on its unique culture and history. How should we take action to reconstruct? It will be a long-term commitment.
Lastly, but not the least, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the material and spiritual supports sent throughout the country.
【photo: Mr. Oikawa (left), the director of CIL Tasuketto, and Ms. Inoue, secretariat (right), under a banner saying, “Keep walking with your face up!! We are praying for you from Kobe!”】