On 22 June, members of the BCCJ travelled to Aizumisato-machi, Fukushima Prefecture, to open a community centre in one of the area’s temporary housing complexes, accommodating 250 households who fled Naraha-machi due to the threat of radiation following the 3/11 disasters.
The community centre, devised and constructed by BCCJ members KVH and Colin Shea, is supported by the local municipality and has been partially sponsored by the BCCJ’s Back to Business (B2B) Initiative.
The centre’s infrastructure has been designed to fit the needs of a diverse range of children, from infants to high-school age youngsters, who have been without a community hub and safe play space. It has also created job opportunities for local nursing care specialists. The municipality has hired five carers to attend to about 100 children who can use the centre seven days a week, and has pledged to coordinate community projects and capacity-building activities for displaced families.
Aizumisato-machi’s mayor, Hidetoshi Watanabe, said: “Not only the area’s children, but also their parents and other family members—who are living in stressful circumstances in excessively small spaces—will benefit greatly from this community project”.
Meanwhile, at the BCCJ’s Road to Recovery (R2R) event on 8 March, local businesswoman Megumi Hikichi from Wataricho, Miyagi Prefecture, gave an emotive presentation about the situation in her community, which had been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. She also shared her dream of beginning a self-sustaining small business, which could engage and employ creative women who survived the triple disaster.
Fast forward four months, to July 2012. Hikichi now is running WATALIS—named after the town and “talisman” which means “hopes for the happiness and prosperity of those who buy or use”—a BCCJ-sponsored initiative that employs six local people and has begun producing bags and purses in bulk. Industrial sewing machines were purchased with funds from the B2B Initiative, and bundles of Liberty fabric were bought with proceeds raised directly from sales of handicrafts at the R2R event.
Hikichi is committed to cementing the UK-Japan relationship by combining traditional fabrics from both countries. She wrote: “I am very grateful to the people of the United Kingdom and the British community in Japan for their outpouring of support. The donations we received shall be used wisely to initiate projects that will help our town to recover and develop.
“The volunteers associated with the BCCJ have inspired us to work with hope in our hearts. WATALIS has just been launched and there is much for us to learn. It will be difficult for us to reciprocate your many kindnesses, but I hope one day to welcome you to our town, as tourists, to thank you”.
The mission of the B2B Initiative for Tohoku is designed to support projects with:
- Positive impact on business, community and society
- Potential to demonstrate measurable results, or generate economic returns or outcomes with long-term benefits
- Prospects for future development, growth and sustainability
- Passionate local stakeholders in Tohoku