Red Cross emotional support continues

By Francis Markus, IFRC

Sitting by the open window of her prefabricated home in a sunny corner of the baseball pitch that’s become a temporary settlement community, Yoshiko Takizawa, exudes a placid cheerfulness – until the talk turns to the disaster three years ago that destroyed her home and decimated her family.

“My brother and sister-in-law were swept away by the tsunami and I can’t help feeling that they gave up their lives in order for me to survive,” says Yoshiko, 76.

She wipes away a tear as she struggles with the memory.

Companionable cat

With her husband having been dead for decades, nowadays, her 11-year-old cat, Happy is Yoshiko’s only companion. Her two other cats died upon moving into this prefabricated home, atop a wooded hill in the town of Tagajo about an hour’s drive from the Miyagi prefectural capital Sendai.

So it’s perhaps understandable that the fluffy white animal should be somewhat pampered and a little overweight – or very overweight, at 10 kilogrammes.

And it’s all the more important for Yoshiko to get out of her house when she can and join in social activities like today’s, organised every few weeks by Japanese Red Cross Society volunteers and psychosocial workers in the housing settlement’s community centre.

“I would be happy to stay in this prefabricated house if I could remain here on a permanent basis,” says Yoshiko.

But that’s not an option. The government initially said the prefabricated housing would only serve for three years, but has extended that for another year, given the small amount of permanent housing that is currently completed.

Public housing is a slow process

So Yoshiko has applied for a place in a public housing project. But given the lengthy process involved in building consensus on permanent housing locations and negotiations between the government and landowners, she still doesn’t know how long that will take.

Some families – it’s hard to get a sense of exact numbers, but perhaps between 5 and 10 per cent – have already moved out of this prefab community of 140 households, impatient with waiting to be resettled, and bought new homes.

“It’s not easy for people to become independent, though, and the job situation in this part of Japan is still difficult,” says one of the organisers of the morning’s Red Cross activity session, which includes blood pressure checks or manicures for those who want them, or simply tea, snacks and a sociable chat.

So while Yoshiko and most of her neighbours remain here in this settlement, the Japanese Red Cross Society support to help these survivors remain active and connected will continue.