Six months after the massive 9.0 earthquake struck eastern Japan on March 11, Mercy Corps continues to work with our partner agency, Peace Winds Japan, to bring relief and recovery to people in need. Our projects have helped to support 148,000 people who live in the four towns where we are working: Ofunato, Rikuzentakata, Kesennuma and Minamisanriku.
Families have now moved out of the evacuation centers where they took shelter after the earthquake, and into temporary housing made available by the Japanese government. Peace Winds Japan is supplying bedding and kitchen items to help people get settled in their new accommodations.
Economic Recovery: Focus on Commerce
As the clean-up continues, economic recovery is crucial. We are providing shopping vouchers people can use to purchase food, clothing and other supplies from local merchants. This program allows survivors to prioritize their own needs while helping the local economy recover. To date, we have distributed vouchers to more than 6,000 survivors.
Transportation – including daily shopping trips – is a challenge. So we’re helping local merchants bring their goods right to the neighborhoods where their customers live, via mobile shops. It’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs to resume business and earn an income – while providing a service to their neighbors who need groceries. This program started in Rikuzentakata, where almost all commerce was destroyed, and is now expanding to Minamisanriku.
Our team has also started a bus program to provide access to stores and services. This service helps survivors shop for food and access essential services like medical care and banks. The service currently runs between Rikuzentakata and Ofunato, where some shops and services are available.
We helped the fish market in Ofunato resume operations, providing a generator, forklifts, fish tanks, ice storage and scales to help restart the industry. The market sells many kinds of fish, including bonito, a high-demand fish in Japan. Today fishermen are using the port and market to sell fresh fish to local vendors.
We are supporting fishing associations in Minamisanriku to restart the production and processing of wakame, a seaweed staple of the Japanese diet. We’ve helped them to purchase essential equipment for growing the seaweed and plan to provide equipment to help harvest and process the crop in early 2012. The processing operation will create jobs for local women who traditionally do this work.
We are working with area fishing associations and chambers of commerce to help these vital industries recover and provide jobs and income to local people.
Youth and Community Programs
Mercy Corps is working with Peace Winds Japan to help Japanese children and adults recover their well-being. Our programs include Comfort for Kids, Art and Sports Caravan and Moving Forward.
Our Comfort for Kids program builds the ability of local communities to help children recover from the emotional effects of a large-scale disaster. The program has been adapted and translated for the people of Japan. Training sessions for professionals (teachers, caregivers) and non-professionals (parents) have been conducted in several locations.
Books and pamphlets to support children and their parents and teachers were provided by Mercy Corps and the Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families. Our team is now exploring ways to build support groups for parents, grandparents and other community members.
Our program also serves youth and communities through the Art and Sports Caravan. Led by a local resident who is a trained art therapist, it offers children fun, creative activities that let them express their feelings. At the same time, adults are invited to meet and talk over tea and cookies, offering them an informal opportunity to speak with trained staff.
We are partnering with Peace Winds Japan and Nike to introduce Moving Forward, a program that uses sports to help young people recover physically, socially, mentally and emotionally from trauma associated with disasters. Trainings begin in September.
Emergency Relief Phase Now Ended
In the weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, our team focused on providing relief items – tents tarps, blankets, heaters, clothes, water, food and school and hygiene supplies -- to survivors. Mercy Corps and Peace Winds Japan delivered assistance to as many as 42,000 people living in shelters. Then, as supplies of essential items became more accessible, our team shifted its focus to economic recovery and post-trauma work.
Peace Winds Japan: A Ten-Year Partnership
Over the past decade, Mercy Corps and Peace Winds Japan have worked together numerous times in response to disasters. Peace Winds Japan, established in 1996, is dedicated to the support of people in distress, threatened by conflict, poverty or other turmoil. It has provided humanitarian relief, and assistance with restoration and development, to refugees who fled their countries, domestic refugees who suffer in their own countries, disaster survivors and poverty-stricken people. Our partnership combines Peace Winds’ Japanese base and global reach with Mercy Corps’ expertise responding to disasters around the world, to assist the Japanese people.