Pausing as I write the phrase, ordinary people….
What’s really true is that I am just blown away. I’ve spent the last three days meeting people who are doing the work needed to stabilize and then re-create the Tohoku region of Japan that was ravaged by the triple disasters of March 11, 2011.
There are special names for these folks in Japan. Some are called “U Turn:” people raised in Tohoku who had moved away and have now returned. Some are called “I Turn:” people who never had a connection with the region, but who have moved their lives to Tohoku. Some are called volunteers: people who have spent days, weeks and months living in the various volunteer centers doing whatever is needed. And, of course, others are the people who have lived in Tohoku all their lives. They arec sometimes are called victims or sufferers, but those terms turn them into applicants. They are just people rebuilding their lives and their communities.
A year ago Suji Suzuki had no idea he would be living in Sendai. He was happy in Tokyo, finding ways to use Appreciate Inquiry to change health systems in Spokane. He did an I Turn and has now set up the Sanaburi Foundation to act as an intermediary foundation to create a bridge between people with resources outside Tohoku and those who need support within (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/c6c47e). He came to the region back in April and just showed up for what needs to be done. Gradually, as he worked alongside many other volunteers, he began to see this need for an intermediary function and he had some previous background doing foundation work so he stepped forward. Each day he continues to find his way. Brokering new partnerships and forming new relationships with others who are working to create a new Tohoku.
Watanabe-san worked for a firm in Tokyo that made log homes. He did a U Turn to Tohoku after the disasters hit. Now he is the volunteer coordinator for Minami-Sanriku-cho area where 7 communities with 2500 people were completely destroyed (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/41e63a). He was born in Sendai and thinks that he will be in the region for a long time. There was nothing in particular in his background which prepared him for the work he is doing now. He just showed up and started to offer his talents. stepping forward to do what he could for people who needed his help.
I don’t have a picture of Chiba-san. I was too blown away by his story to take one. An older man with white hair. So humble. So unassuming. He was born in the small village of Oosawa where all 188 homes were washed out to see. He spent most of his life away, as a ship’s engineer and returned for retirement three years ago. He’s been the servant leader of one temporary housing site where he’s managed to gather many member of the village together. They’re organizing themselves to do all sorts of things because they already had relationship. Although he waved his hands to reflect any praise, I have no doubt that most of what’s happened in the new Oosawa would have happened without him.
Or then there is Kawasaki-san from Shikoku. He showed up in Kesennuma in May to help. He thinks he will be there for a long time, helping businesses and communities rebuild. In Rikuzentakada, I met with two met who had been friends for 35 years. One is a former local politician and the other is the President of a large Driving School. They are among the people who lived through the days of the disaster and who are now working together to build a new community which combines the strengths of traditional culture with new technologies. (see http://www.resilientjapan.org/content/id/3114ad).
These and others I met are just a few of the ordinary heroes who are stepping forward because the times call them. They each have a large portion of common sense, a lot of humility, a willingness to do whatever needs to be done and the courage to step into the unknown time and time again.
I feel honored to have met them and will look for ways to support their work.