Special Series: Connect with Tohoku--Real Voices 002

Cries of disaster victims: "I want to work"

Mariko Abe
Director of International Volunteer Center of Yamagata


One and a half months have passed since the March 11 earthquake. Even though aftershocks are becoming less frequent, many people still live in fear. But recovery efforts are under way.

While relief supplies are arriving from both home and abroad, I hear the desperate cries of the local people: "I want to work. I need a job." The massive tsunami left a great many people jobless, especially in the fisheries and marine industry. They are facing the serious problem of how to make a living.

The International Volunteer Center of Yamagata (IVY) set up the Tohoku Disaster Relief NGO Center 14 days after the earthquake struck and started relief activities, coordinating with various organizations, private firms, municipalities, as well as individual supporters. We've received relief money and goods from not only within Japan but from abroad as well.


In our relief activities, an essential role has been played by information from blogs, twitters and websites which spread via personal computers and mobile phones. Right after we opened the volunteer center, we started receiving inquiries from many countries: "Where should I go to carry out a survey of relief operations?" "I want to share my know-how on disaster relief", "I want to send nutritious foods as emergency supplies. Can you mediate for me?", "I want to report about the activities of Japanese NGOs", and so on. While we deeply appreciated the interest shown, we couldn't handle the steady stream of inquiries that came at such an early stage. We were also surprised by the speed at which the information spread all over the world. Inquiries flooded in from overseas asking how they could contribute to the relief effort. It was with some regret that we had to tell them to give us more time, so that their support would reach those who needed it.

While kind offers poured in from abroad, foreigners in Japan started leaving the country in droves around March 14, as news of the grave situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant began to unfold. Many of the evacuees followed the same route: from Sendai to Yamagata, Tsuruoka, Niigata, and then Tokyo. I will never forget the scene at a bus terminal where a long line of people carrying numerous bags waited in the freezing rain. I'd seen news about Japanese people leaving other countries following an evacuation advisory, but witnessing foreigners leaving Japan after the recent disaster gave me a feeling of indescribable emptiness.

In the meantime, Japanese citizens living abroad had been active in raising money for the disaster victims. We also received relief funds from Asian countries where Japan had provided development aid in the past. I felt a strong bond with the Asian countries.


In addition to sending supplies to Tohoku, IVY also launched a "Cash for Work" program in an effort to create jobs in the region. We pay people to remove the mud and rubble in the disaster areas of Ishinomaki and Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture. The coordinators and workers are all local people.

The situation in the affected areas is still insecure, but the people are moving forward. Your long-term support is essential for the region's speedy recovery. Please remain concerned about those who are still struggling in the wake of the disaster.

IVY阿部さんプロフィール用.jpgInternational Volunteer Center of Yamagata (IVY)
IVY is an international NGO based in Yamagata Prefecture, formed by citizens to address various global and regional issues. It provides support to Cambodia and to foreigners living in Japan, promotes international understanding and environmental education, and organizes international events and seminars. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, it launched the Tohoku Disaster Relief NGO Center to conduct relief activities. It is also an NGO consultant for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and recipient of the 1996 Japan Foundation Prizes for Global Citizenship.

Japan Foundation Prizes for Global Citizenship
Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation

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