The QFF team recently embarked on a tour to find out about more about existing projects, confirm recommended projects, and to identify potential projects. Setting off from Tokyo, the team included the QFF technical team, members of the Qatar Embassy and the QFF consultant team. Over three days the team moved north through the prefectures of Fukishima, Miyagi and Iwate meeting members of the community and municipalities and visiting sites.
The tour began at Aoba Gakuen, a project in association with AAR-J. This project included the provision of playground equipment for children with special needs. The Children’s Institute of Aoba Gakuen was established in 1946 in order to provide assistance to war orphans of the Second World War. At present this Fukishima institution houses 52 children between the ages of 2 to 18 who have been abandoned or abused. The area was severely affected by the Fukishima nuclear power plant accident and the children had suffered greatly as they were not able to play outdoors due to contamination. The QFF team found out more about the facility and were delighted to meet some of the little people who would now begin to benefit from their new playground equipment.
Moving on, the team went to the Children’s Day Service Sakura, a center operated by Watari Social Welfare Cooperation. This center reaches out to children with special needs and QFF was proud to provide funding for indoor equipment. While the team was there, they were amused to see the big smiles of the children as they made full and boisterous use of their new equipment. The team was also very honored when the center presented a framed thank you letter. This was received with much gratitude by Mr Hassan Al Humaidi, Second Secretary at the Embassy of Qatar in Japan.
The next stop along the way was Morioka Municipal Hospital which had received funding in order to implement a healthcare program which would include mobile screening for cardio vascular issues such as deep vein thrombosis. The program is set to benefit over 4,000 people in areas where many struggle in temporary housing units. A fleet of vehicles will tour the area and conduct medical services for the residents, especially the elderly and frail.
The QFF team received a warm welcome from the deputy manager and officials of the hospital together with representatives from the AAR-J. This was accompanied by a demonstration of the screening methods that would be deployed in Rikuzentakata-shi. This included the use of ultrasound and blood tests to diagnose deep vein thrombosis. The mobile screening service will also distribute anti-embolism stockings and provide rehabilitation exercises for those in need. Already a schedule is up and running an the fleet will visit Rikuzentakata City, Kamaishi City, Ohotuchi-chou, Ohofunato City and Miyako-shi Tanohata-vill.
Day two of the tour took the QFF to Kamaischi City. The minibus wound round hilly roads fringed by pine trees and dropped down into its final destination Kamaischi, a settlement which juts out into the Pacific Ocean. This city is historic and is located on the Sanriku rias coast of Iwate Prefecture. It is famous for its steel industry, love of rugby, and of course its fishery industry. Sadly, the 2011 disaster ripped apart the fishery industry. At Kamaishi Hikari Foods, a project funded by QFF, the QFF team was proud to hear some words from the community. A representative for the fishery cooperative movingly recounted the importance of such projects:
“After the quake, the number of processing factories that buy fish from the fishermen fell sharply. Hikari Foods was the first to buy fish from local people. They contributed a lot to the reconstruction of local fisheries.”
The positive effects of QFF’s mission were also tangible in the heartfelt comments of an employee at the facility
“I lost my job after the earthquake came….now our lives will finally be back to normal. I really thank QFF for everything.”
Having toured the facility, the QFF team moved on to their next port of call in Rikuzentakata City, a city severely destroyed by the disaster. This was followed by a visit to the City Hall at Kesennuma. Meeting the Mayor of Kesennuma and others, QFF was able to discuss how the recovery process was progressing and listen to ideas for potential projects which QFF looks forward to receiving in the near future.
Day three took the team to Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture, and the largest city in the Tohoku region. This city is often known as “Academic City” due to the large proportion of universities relative to its population. It was therefore fitting that the QFF started the day off at Tohoku University, considered one of the top fifty universities in the world. The university will also soon be home to a QFF funded project which involves the renovation of one of the facilities of the Graduate School of Engineering to become “The Qatar Friendship Fund Hall”. The QFF team donned hard hats and witnessed the project site which was well underway with plans that clearly reflected the spirit of innovation.
The idea is to conduct a science campus in the hall for children who are living in the disaster area. This will inspire innovation in the youth of the area which will in turn set strong foundations for new generations of engineers and researchers in the Tohoku region. The Engineering Department of Tohoku University is already ranked as number 23 in the world in terms of Engineering/ Technology and Computer Sciences (www.shangiranking.com) and the zeal for monozukuri, or creative design and manufacturing is something that really came across to the QFF team when they met with the Vice President for Earthquake Disaster Reconstruction of Tohoku University, the Associate Dean for Education Graduate School of Engineering and a delegation of leading facility members.
Moving on from Tohoku University, the team went on to Sendai City Hall where they met the Chief of the Bureau of Economy and other officials. Members of the City Hall proposed several projects and QFF was keen to share details of other projects with a view to generating city hall support. One project which QFF was keen to share was that of ‘The Innovator Platform’ (TIP) which will provide support and training to future entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and SME start ups in the region. The planned Tohoku Center will be located in the east part of Sendai city and inside the Creative Clusters zone that Sendai City is promoting.
The tour finally drew to a close in Shirakawa, which was blanketed in delicate Sakura or Cherry Blossom. Shirakawa is the southernmost city in the Fukishima prefecture and is known as the “southern gate of Fukishima”. With a population of 64,000 people the city received about 1,700 evacuees escaping radiation from other parts of Fukishima and the team were able to witness temporary housing as they proceeded along cherry blossom fringed roads.
The QFF team’s destination was a sports facility where in 2011 the gymnasium became a crucial evacuation zone. The project proposed by the Mayor of Shirakawa will bring life to the community with regenerated sports buildings, facilities and play equipment. This will serve as a focal point to bring members of the community of all ages together to enjoy physical exercise and it is expected that up to 100,000 people will benefit from this once completed.
In three days, the QFF team was honored to see so much good work and feel a sense of connection with the people of Tohoku. It was a time for reflection accompanied by a sense of positive anticipation and hope for the communities. The team left wondering how best they could further reach out and further share Qatar’s friendship with Japan in the future. Watch this space.