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Nigerians in Japan support survivors in Onagawa

Peace Boat has been carrying out its relief operations with the support of many individuals and organisations both within and outside Japan. As well as the international volunteers featured in reports on this site earlier, many members of the international community living in Japan have been greatly active in supporting the relief and recovery efforts going on since March. One such group is the Nigerian community in Japan. With a population of around 155 million, Nigeria actually has a larger population than Japan – and there are around 15,000 Nigerians resident here in Japan. Some members of the community gathered to support Peace Boat’s project for people moving into temporary housing in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture.

Mr Kevin Cristian Okeke is the representative of one such group, mostly active in the Tokyo area. After the disaster of March 11 hit, the group discussed how they could support the survivors who had lost their homes and livelihoods. However, dealing with language and information barriers, as well as societal prejudices, many members of the Nigerian community themselves are in difficult positions living in Japan. The group spent time discussing with other Nigerians living throughout Japan, and carried out fundraising efforts to eventually raise 2 million yen (around US$26,000). According to Mr Okeke, “Nigeria is a country with many tribes, speaking over 300 different languages. Here in Japan also there are many different groups based on regions and languages, however we were able to all come together in order to do something for this country Japan that we love, and for the survivors of Tohoku.” After conducting their fundraising efforts, the group contacted Peace Boat via this website to discuss how their funds could be put to use to support the people of Tohoku, particularly those whose homes were lost through the tsunami.

The town of Onagawa, four and a half months after the tsunami (photographed on August 2, 2011)

Peace Boat has been supporting survivors moving into temporary housing in Onagawa, as mentioned in this blog earlier. After so many buildings were destroyed and houses washed away by the tsunami, the entire landscape of Onagawa was drastically changed. While many people are still living in evacuation centres, of course all of their everyday household items were also washed away. Currently, construction of temporary housing is being carried out in 30 locations through Okinawa, with 1300 homes planned to be built by the local administration. Currently, 900 homes have been built in 25 locations, and the remainder are planned to be completed by September. However, although rent is not required at the temporary housing, gas, electricity and meals all cost money. As so many people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, being selected to move into temporary housing does not necessarily mean being able to return to somewhat of a stable life, but rather that more support and aid is necessary. In order to make the move into temporary housing at least slightly easier, Peace Boat volunteers have been working to deliver necessary items such as futons, kitchen and bathroom goods, cleaning equipment and so on.

Above photos by Chiga Kenji

On July 24, 10 representatives of Nigerian community groups from around Japan gathered at the Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Centre in Tokyo. Living in Japan, the information available in English following the disaster in March has been very limited. The coordinator of Peace Boat’s disaster relief activities in Tokyo Goda Shigehiro first presented to the group the current situation of survivors in the affected areas and the progress of recovery. A telephone link was made to coordinator Yamamoto Takashi in Ishinomaki, who introduced the specific current situation of support activities for people in Onagawa and the status of the temporary housing. Through detailed questions and discussion, the dedication and motivation of the Nigerian community was clear, as well as the challenges faced by the international community in Japan, with limited access to information in languages other than Japanese.

Mr Okeke also shared the following message on behalf of the Nigerian group:


NIGERIANS CARE AND STAND BY YOU

The Nigerian Community in Japan, sympathizes with the victims of March 11, Earthquake and Tsunami. We say, stay strong and never give up hopes of overcoming these difficulties and returning to normal life, we believe in your courage, determination and resilience that made Japan an outstanding Country, understand that you are not alone in this time of trials and tribulations, that Nigerians and the whole world stand by your efforts in transforming your fatigue of despair to a buoyancy of hope. We love you all and will always remain your friend in need.
Peace Boat greatly appreciates the warm support of the Nigerian community in Japan. The funds raised will be used for the delivery and costs related to providing necessary everyday items to the temporary housing in Onagawa, through until mid-September. The support is giving great and specific strength to Japan, now trying to once again stand up after the tragedy of March 11, and will also be a great contribution to shifting society forwards. Thank you once again for the support, and we look forward to continuing to live together as good neighbours from now on.

※ And finally! After the session ended, the group exchanged with Peace Boat volunteers and staff, sharing together delicious kamaboko (fish cake) freshly delivered from Onagawa!