“For Creating a Life-Brightening New Welfare State”: Participants are determined to revive disaster-stricken areas and rebuild lively communities

— Eleventh Kyodo-soshiki Activity Exchange Meeting of Min-Iren held in Iwate —

On September 2 and 3, 2012, the 11th Activity Exchange Meeting of Min-Iren Kyodo-soshiki (affiliates and cooperative organizations) was held in Hanamaki City, Iwate Prefecture. The slogan of the meeting was “Now, overcoming rain, storms or earthquakes, let us create a life-brightening, new welfare state and build communities where everyone can live in safety without fear, without nuclear power plants.” The meeting was postponed for one year due to the East Japan Great Earthquake. From all prefectural Min-Iren federations, 1,800 members of medical cooperatives and affiliate associations and Min-Iren staff workers took part in the meeting.

Moving commemorative lecture

In the plenary on the first day, Mr. Mikami Mitsuru gave a commemorative lecture, titled, “Revisiting Miyazawa Kenji’s World View in the Post-Disaster Japan.” Mikami had been awarded with a local newspaper company Iwate Nippo’s literature prize for his work, “Galaxy Express leading to tomorrow — Miyazawa Kenji in my heart” (Shinnihon Shuppannsha Publishing). Through his novels, Mr. Mikami explored the agony and philosophy of Kenji, who wished for poor farmers’ happiness. The audience was deeply moved by the lecture. Some said, “I have never known the extensive background of Kenji’s poem”, or “Tears welled up in my eyes many times.”
Following the lecture was the symposium on the theme: “The East Japan Great Earthquake and Creation of Life-Brightening Communities: People-centered rehabilitation and reconstruction.”
On the panel were the staff workers of Min-Iren and its Kyodo-soshiki from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which suffered enormous damage from the earthquake disaster. They reported on the relief activities they carried out at the affected areas and pointed out the delay in the rehabilitation work in these areas.
At the closing of the plenary, Mr. Ryojima Kunihiro, Director of Higashi-Kobe Medical Mutual Co-op pledged on behalf of Hyogo, the host prefecture of the next meeting to be held in 2014, “We had our regional bloc meeting of Kyodo-soshiki last July, where we discussed and decided to host the next meeting, which should attract 2,000 to 3,000 people. We will work to achieve a success with the highest number of participants.” His remark was warmly welcomed by a big applause.

256 different and diverse topics were discussed and reported

The second day was dedicated to workshops where 256 different topics were reported and presented, including such activities and efforts as holding a health check-up day or opening a public bath house in a community, campaigning against the rise of national health insurance premium, stopping the privatization of a municipal hospital and revitalizing the work of Min-Iren’s friends associations through lunch/supper meetings or hobby circles.
In the workshop “Learning from Sawauchi Village”, Mr. Oikawa Kazuo, author of “Village Mayor — Life of Fukazawa Masao of Sawauchi Village” delivered lecture. Mr. Oikawa said, “I read Min-Iren’s Program, which stipulates that it would defend the Constitution of Japan and work hand in hand with Kyodo-soshiki. Min-Iren is the successor of the spirit of Mayor Fukazawa’s village administration.”
In the post-disaster Japan, the government gives more emphasis to the structural reform than the rehabilitation of the affected communities. More and more people are now aware of the importance of mutual support and ties among the people in the community. Through this meeting, participants reaffirmed their commitment to play a pivotal role in rebuilding their communities in favor of human rights and people’s rights to health.

(Article by Tada Shigemasa; Photos by Sakai Takeshi)

Symposium: The East Japan Great Earthquake and Creation of Life-Brightening Communities: People-centered Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Four panelists made presentations in the symposium, reporting on the current situation in the disaster-hit areas and the activities carried out by Min-Iren and Kyodo-soshiki, and expressed their views on future tasks for rehabilitation.

Visiting fellow Co-op Members in Coastal Areas

Yamamoto Akiko
Board member, Morioka Medical Co-op, Iwate

When the great earthquake hit the eastern part of Japan, Ms. Yamamoto, originally from Rikuzen-Takada City, was on her journey. She could not believe her eyes when she watched the TV showing her hometown being washed away by the tsunami. Telephone communication was held up for some time, and when it was finally connected, she received the news of her elder brother and some of her relatives and friends missing or killed. “Still now, I cannot remember when and who informed me of my brother still missing,” Ms. Yamamoto said. On April 6, 2011, her brother was found lifeless.
Ms. Yamamoto went around different evacuation centers in search of the whereabouts of her relatives, where she witnessed many evacuees who endured the fear and sorrow caused by the earthquake and the inconveniences at these centers. “I was full of my own affairs” at first, but Ms. Yamamoto began to encourage herself to take action for the people in distress at evacuation centers, thinking, “It is an act of cowardice to close my eyes to these people.”
Since April 9, 2011, Morioka Medical Co-op began to make visits to confirm the safety of their members in the coastal areas, where 1,100 members had been registered. Referring to the members’ directory, carrying the relief supplies from around the country, Co-op members walked over the debris looking for their fellow members. After 39 waves of visiting activities, the safety of about 450 members was confirmed. “These actions made me realize that each of us alone cannot do anything. And just because we were fellow Kyodo-soshiki members, the victims could feel at ease being supported”, Ms. Yamamoto said. “I will keep my antenna stretched to receive and send out information. I will be ready to help whomever in need, and I will also be ready to be helped when in need.”

Effort for Regeneration in the Areas Directly Hit by Tsunami

Nayuki Eizo
Director, Matsushima Medical Co-op, Miyagi

Nobiru District, where the day-care facility “Naruse no sato” was located, was hit directly by tsunami, and 12 users and 3 staff workers at the facility were victimized. “When I realized what was happening, the ground floor was already washed away. We just could not make an escape”, Mr. Nayuki said.
It was 10 days after the earthquake when fellow Min-Iren support workers from around the country arrived at Naruse no sato. Mr. Nayuki said, “With the help of these supporters, every day we went out to find and confirm the safety of our medical co-op members, and were able to visit almost all the elderly members living alone.” The supporters delivered relief goods containing hot-water bags with solidarity messages to the affected members, and together with their fellow Min-Iren volunteers joined the clean-up activities of victims’ houses. Nayuki recalled, “It was difficult to wash and clean away sticky dirt carried by the tsunami from the house.”
They again visited the members in Nobiru district in February this year. They found some houses still remaining but no one living there, or “Some people lived in the upper floor of the house, after tsunami washed away everything of the ground floor.” In April, similar visits were made in Shintona district, and in June, in Miyato district. In Miyato, they visited on foot all the households of the members one by one, where even the foundations of houses were lost.
Mr. Nayuki expressed his hope by saying, “Together with our volunteers, I want to organize a variety of events to encourage the victims. It would be wonderful if you, dear colleagues around the country, share your ideas for rehabilitation and join us to warm up the events.”
At present, Matsushima Medical Co-op is planning to build a nursing facility “Matsushima no sato”, to succeed the spirit of Naruse no sato, washed away and lost by the tsunami. The construction work will start coming autumn.

Victims Want Their Decisions to be Respected in Support Activities

Kudo Fumio
Organizing Section, Hamadori Medical Co-op, Fukushima

Mr. Kudo reported that in Fukushima, in the wake of the nuclear power plant accident, many people have been forced to make decisions whether to seek refuge away from home or not, and are still suffering. He said, “We cannot just decide things based on the dose of radiation. Jobs, housing, children’s schools and money for moving — without solving all these problems, people cannot just leave home to elsewhere.”
He also pointed out possible consequences of families living away from each other. He himself sent his 5-month-old daughter to a place 500 kilometers away from home, but called her back home 2 months later, after weighing up the bigger risk of his families living separately.
On the other hand, some people say, “Continuing to live in Fukushima amounts to the abuse of children,” and others tell the victims, “You can receive compensation money, can’t you?” Mr. Kudo stated, “Please do not say such things to the victims, but concentrate all your energies on supporting the decisions made by them. Hamadori Medical Co-op receives invitations to the weekend evacuation programs in Niigata, Yamagata, Shizuoka and many different places in Japan, and we are immensely grateful. They give us moral support and make us believe we are not forgotten.”
Emphasizing that Fukushima was yet to be on the starting line for the rehabilitation work, he appealed tearfully, “Those victims who have lost their homes to live in or lands to return, jobs to work for, or who are forced to live away from their families will be able to stand on the starting line only when full compensation is paid for their damage from the accident. In Iwaki, Koriyama, Fukushima and Minami-Soma cities, ‘Associations to Achieve Full Compensation’ have been established. I sincerely ask for your support to set up the associations all over Fukushima Prefecture.”

Power of each branch working together with community people should develop beyond the framework of Kyodo-soshiki:
Muraguchi Itaru, Assistant General Secretary, Miyagi People’s Support Center for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation from the Great Earthquake Disaster

Muraguchi Itaru is a medical doctor at Saka Sogo Hospital, Miyagi Prefecture. He reported about creating a local liaison council on the fourth day of the disaster, in order to gather information on the communities hit by the earthquake, by discussing among municipal disaster countermeasures offices, local heads of public heath centers, medical associations and directors of major hospitals in the area, including Tagajo and Shiogama cities, as well as about the support and relief activities in Ishinomaki City. In Ishinomaki, some people staying in the upper floors of their houses after the tsunami washed the lower floors away were left isolated without any information. He walked around in the community with a loudspeaker and announced, “Please come out of the house if you feel not well,” and saw more than 20 patients in two hours during his rounds. Learning that many of these people lacked their everyday supply of medicines for their chronic illnesses, he proposed to the prefectural pharmacist association that a mobile pharmacy should be set up. In response to his proposal, 2 mobile pharmacies, vehicles carrying medicines to disaster victims in need, began to operate.
Dr. Muraguchi criticized the government’s policies and projects planned in defiance of the opposition by fishermen and local citizens, to allow profit-making corporations to enter the fisheries industry by setting up “special fisheries industry zones” and to build over 10 meter-high gigantic banks from the southern part of Iwate to Fukushima.
He also pointed out the problem of a university planning to conduct a genetic research of the residents in coastal areas, on the account that it is often the case with the people in the area that three generations of family members live closely together. And the government has already granted necessary budget to support the project.
In the closing, Dr. Muraguchi encouraged the participants, saying, “Large-scale earthquakes can happen anytime, anywhere in Japan. What is important in the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation is people’s self-governing ability. It will decide the course of community-building — whether it will be people-oriented or not. I urge you to make full use of your group/branch power to link up with the people in the community and develop it beyond the framework of Kyodo-soshiki. I also encourage you to cooperate, especially with public health nurses. The importance of local public service workers is evident.”