Immediately following the Great East Japan Earthquake, JEN opened an office in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. JEN has since provided assistance to the victims of the earthquake, starting with soup kitchens in evacuation centers and clearing houses of debris, then expanding its activities to distribution of goods to people who moved into temporary housings, mental health care for traumatized locals, and revitalization of communities that were on the verge of collapsing after the disaster. (Activities until October 2015 are introduced here.)
Over time, Ishinomaki and other disaster-stricken areas are increasingly facing challenges that have accelerated or become prominent after the disaster, including the outflow of younger generations, increasing burden of elderly care, and poverty issues. JEN is currently supporting the Tohoku region together with partner organizations, assuming the following 3 roles:
(1) Joint project planning with partner organizations
(2) Financing projects
(3) Building capacities of partner organizations by providing customized trainings and supporting networking
In Iwate Prefecture, JEN partners with Inclu Iwate, an NPO that specializes in assisting single parents in the local area. JEN has been supporting the Children’s Restaurant in Morioka City since its opening in January 2016. Although over 80% of single parents in Japan have jobs, over half of them live in poverty; moreover, single mothers and fathers often lack the time to connect with the community . To change the situation in which single parents and their children tend to be isolated, Inclu Iwate’s Children’s Restaurant invites children and their caretakers alike to join in their activities. After meals, university student volunteers help the children with their schoolwork and play together with them, while experienced staff members provide consultation service to single parents, and parents get a chance to exchange information with one another as well. Inclu Iwate also leads activities to expand the supporting network across Iwate Prefecture in order to effectively address the participants’ needs, such as receiving donations of school supplies and uniforms from local citizens.
The population of Rikuzentakata-city in Iwate Prefecture dropped by 20% as a direct result of the disaster and outflow of young generations who seek job opportunities and better housing elsewhere from the devastated city. Aiming at promotion of youth leadership towards sustainable communities, JEN has been working with ‘Save Takata’, a local NGO based in Rikuzen-takata that works with agriculture, information technology and youth support.
Many multigenerational families that used to live together in coastal areas were forced to live separately, as appropriate housing was not available or younger families decided to move out of the coastal areas. As a result, elderly couples now have to care for each other.
The care and medical professionals in Ishinomaki-city found that because elderly men often do not have basic skills and knowledge of care giving, such as cooking and doing house chores, or a network of friends to seek help from, they tend to become isolated. As a result, the quality of life of those being taken care of were deterioriating. JEN has established a partnership with a group of care and medical professionals to support their activity: ”care giving classes for men”, which aim is to provide not only skills and knowledge necessary for caregiving but also to support the men in developing networks of peers and care and medical professionals.
A regional population includes people of both genders and all ages, from small children to elderly citizens. There is also a great diversity in terms of disabilities, diseases, and native languages. Involving diverse participants in disaster risk reduction, to make them well prepared for emergencies is the way to build a resilient community.
Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Gender Equality Center in Tohoku took the initiative to hold trainings on gender and disaster. Participants included staff of municipalities and fire departments, as well as local community leaders. As a result of the initiative, understanding of the importance of both genders taking equal roles in disaster risk reduction has been gradually expanding. To accelerate this movement and for gender-equal perspectives to take root in the region, the Training Center for Gender & Disaster Risk Reduction (GDRR), which has rich know-how and experience in disaster risk reduction and gender issues, takes charge in educating local organizations and individuals. JEN partners with GDRR and supports its activities.