MISATO CITY, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan – More than three years after a tremendous earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, the cracks and debris from that day in March can still be found.
For Noriko Sasaki and others in the Tohoku region of Japan, the initial waves of support and relief that centered on evacuation from the disasters gave way to waiting for further government assistance to rebuild or repair, which in some cases has been slow in coming.
"At the time of the great earthquake, I was shopping in the next village. After it struck, I came home immediately without buying anything because I was worried about my mother-in-law who was here at the time. The house was such a huge mess that I couldn't even enter, but she was all right," said Sasaki. "There were many homes damaged, and more than half of the buildings were destroyed. However, government assistance alone has not been enough here to completely recover in this area."
The 67-year-old widow has lived with the damage of March 11, 2011, but Habitat's Kosuke Otani, who made the initial connection with Sasaki and directed the repair efforts, says there are many families who still need a helping hand.
"It has been three years since the disaster, and public attention has waned considerably. This is particularly true for the many people still needing support in areas not hit by the tsunami. These inland or distant areas did not see media coverage – areas like this one," said Otani.
Some 100 Nissan staff in Japan applied to work on the Habitat project, but only two groups of 10 could be accepted. Takeshi Matsunaga, a 21-year company veteran, said he applied for the project because of ties to Tohoku and a deep desire to make a difference.
"When you actually visit a place like this, you realize that many still need support. It is important not to forget this, and keep up our support activities," said Matsunaga. "No one knows when an earthquake will strike, not just for the northern Tohoku region of Japan, but for the Kanto area as well. It's always give and take with relief efforts, so I want to help and offer support as much as possible."
Emiko Yamazaki, who joined Nissan in April and shares the same reasons for joining the Habitat team, said the sense of team was strong.
"This is my first time to do plastering work. I have to fill in the small frames neatly, and the work requires more effort and time than I expected, so I'm not really making major progress here, " said Yamazaki. "No person can solve all problems. Although things fade over time, as a society it is important for us to visit this area and remind ourselves repeatedly."
In just one day, the Nissan team could not complete all needed repair efforts, but filled many cracks, replaced frayed floorboards and, according to Sasaki, made her home a better place.
"Now, whenever I am in need of help, I know I can contact someone after meeting the people from the Habitat project. It's been a tremendous help."
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