yesterday I joined the distribution of winter goods to temporary housing. the main thing (and the one most residents were excited about) was hot water bottles. all hands was doing distribution of relief goods to evacuation shelters for a while, but just recently they started bringing winter goods to the temporary housing.
since support from the government officially stops (for food, utilities, etc.) when people move out of evacuation shelters and into temporary housing, it’s difficult for residents. actually there were many cases of people not wanting to leave evacuation shelters for this reason.
in the morning, we delivered to 4 small temporary housing sites in ofunato. they had around 12 units each. and they have received some financial support from kitakami city to provide 1 staff person per site. so at each location there is one unit that is used as a kind of office, where a staff person who has been hired for a temporary period (this was unclear–2 years? Or 1 year?) is there from 9-5. we dropped off our relief supplies with this person in each place. the units seemed pretty nice, prefab but new, with carpeting.
in the afternoon we distributed to 4 sites in rikuzentaka. in these, there is no staff there, but in each site there was a designated resident who received our delivery, and helped us sort the items into bags for each resident household.
it’s hard to say which system is better–at first I thought it’s great that there’s a staff there, but actually in the areas without, the people worked together to distribute the relief goods, and seemed liked they had much stronger connections. of course it was only a glimpse at 1 time on 1 day, but today I met someone who is very familiar with disaster recovery in this area, and she also said that the support staff are from outside, and there is very little criteria for hiring them, and maybe the areas where the people are self organized are better off in terms of capacity building.
the people themselves were very kind and friendly, and thanked us so much for bringing them things. it seemed that the smaller sites that are out of the way and not easily visible don’t get very much support, as many groups just go to the large sites.
all hands has delivered or is delivering to 95 sites, and just yesterday to over 1000 people (I have to double check that information).
it seems like a really hard situation for the residents–the locations are inconvenient, and if they don’t have a car, they really can’t get anywhere. their gratitude for the small things we brought was moving, and I felt like I wanted to come back again regularly and bring them some smiles and cheerful words, along with more things. at the same time it made me want to cry.
one lady had made a little rock and moss garden outside her house, along with some flower planters. at the last place we stopped, they had a tent set up, and some donated items underneath it. they were really happy to see the socks and underwear (men’s boxers) we had brought, and were funny and cute, the ladies calling out to the old guys to come back for undies! at each place, the contact person has a list of all the people living there, but can also tell us without looking at it the ages of all the kids, and what size diapers they need. at our last stop, where we brought socks, we gave them an assortment of socks for the 8 kids (up to high school) who live there. the ladies set them out for the kids to choose their own socks, saying they each would like to pick out their own. it’s a little thing, to be able to pick your own socks, but it’s something that these kids probably haven’t had much of a chance to do since the tsunami.
it was my first time to visit temporary housing in japan. in some ways it reminded me of indonesia, where each local unit has a leader who takes care of official paperwork on the local level.
it also made me think about the need for more human interactions. after the Kobe earthquake, there were a number of people who died solitary deaths in temporary housing and also permanent recovery housing.
the foot bath (ashiyu in japanese) is one activity meant to help with this. but in Kobe, there were also the apple girls, who were students who brought apples to the residents, and chatted with them. now I really understand how and why this is important.