In Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, the town’s first non-Japanese reconstruction support ambassador is trying to send a message out to the world that assistance is still needed in recovery efforts from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
“Please give just a little more help for the town of Minami-Sanriku,” pleaded Angela Ortiz, a 32-year-old American who was appointed as a representative of the town in February. At a gathering organized by an international NGO in Tokyo this past spring, she said, “The disaster is not over. I want to ask all of you to become a window and show the world the reality in Tohoku.”
Born on the U.S. West Coast, Angela Ortiz came to Japan at the age of 4. On March 11, 2011, when she was teaching at a Tokyo kindergarten, she saw the first images of the tsunami’s destruction on the news. She sped off to the area within the week and helped set up the group O.G.A. for Aid to assist the survivors in Tohoku. She has been working in Minami-Sanriku ever since.
At first the group went around distributing supplies sent in from around the world to survivors. When distribution of supplies stabilized and the need changed to rebuilding of livelihoods, O.G.A. implemented projects to help the survivors become “independent.”
The group worked with volunteers and others to plow uncultivated and fallow fields in the name of “reclamation” to assist farmers who lost fields in the tsunami. O.G.A. for Aid set up an arrangement to grow produce with the farmers in the fields, sold it locally and in the Tokyo area, then distributed the profits to the farmers. It has opened up around three hectares to farming in three years and sales have topped 10 million yen ($98,500). At the harvest festival, the local farmers and foreign volunteers stood together and sang songs by Saburo Kitajima, a famous enka singer who often sings about the spirit of Japanese farmers and rural laborers.
“A thousand volunteers from 22 countries have visited Japan with us here, they all come to love the country, and then they go back home,” Angela Ortiz said. “The reconstruction is long and tough, but I think it’s also a chance for the Japanese people to grow and in their recovery, become leaders in disaster risk reduction, in rebuilding and what recovery means. Their culture and how they help each other in their communities is a beautiful example we can all gain value from understanding more.”