3:00 P.M. EST April 14, 2011 | STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS)
The Asian Rural Institute in Nasushiobara, Japan, sustained major damage during the March 12 earthquake. A UMNS photo courtesy of Jonathan and Satomi McCurley.
View in Photo Gallery
After the ground stopped shaking on March 11, staff at the Asian Rural lnstitute in northern Japan began assessing the damage.
What they found, amid toppled bookcases and shattered dishes, was serious: The two-story Koinonia House, with its kitchen, dining hall, chapel and other facilities, was damaged to the point of being unusable. Repairs were required at other buildings, and numerous pipes in the institute’s water system had ruptured because of the earthquake.
The bigger problem: Participants in the annual rural leaders training program were scheduled to arrive in three weeks.
Now, a month later, repairs are under way and, with the support of a $150,000 grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the staff will be able to welcome its new students on May 2.
UMCOR directors approved the grant during their April 12 meeting in Stamford, Conn. The relief organization had received $1.6 million in donations by April 8 for the Japan disaster, and this is the largest grant to date.
The independent Christian-based school has had a long partnership with The United Methodist Church.
Steven Cutting, director of ecumenical relations for the Asian Rural Institute, told United Methodist News Service that the grant was “critical” to carrying out the institute’s mission to train grassroots community leaders from Asia and Africa in leadership, sustainable agriculture and community building.
“These are basic repairs needed for safety and functionality of our facilities,” he explained. “Without these repairs, we would not be able to invite our 2011 class and carry out our 2011 training program.”
Jonathan McCurley, a United Methodist missionary assigned to the institute, agreed with that assessment, calling the UMCOR grant “a huge help at allowing us to actually pay the bills for the immediate repairs.”
Suffering in the aftermath
Portland (Ore.) Area Bishop Robert Hoshibata has come to expect this type of response from UMCOR. “I really appreciate our ability to go in and be with the people in the ravaged areas for the long-term,” he said.
The Japanese-American episcopal leader believes some have the misperception that the Japanese people need little assistance in dealing with the aftereffects of a 9.1-magnitude earthquake and tsunami. The twofold disaster killed about 28,000 people, literally wiped away villages along Japan’s northeast coast and left a nuclear power plant damaged at the same level of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union.
“The reality is there are people (in Japan) who are in desperate situations,” Hoshibata said. “Because they are not necessarily headlining their suffering does not mean the suffering is not taking place.”
UMCOR already had made grants of $10,000 each to the United Church of Christ in Japan, National Christian Council in Japan, the Korean Christian Council in Japan and Global Medic, a long-time UMCOR partner, reported Melissa Crutchfield, who oversees international disaster response for UMCOR.
Containers of rice lay in ruins at the Asian Rural Institute in Nasushiobara, Japan, following the earthquake and tsunami. Photo courtesy of Jonathan and Satomi McCurley.
A $30,000 grant went to Church World Service, whose Asia Pacific team is working with several partners in Japan on relief and recovery. A new agreement with National Christian Council in Japan will create a long-term partnership in emergency response, recovery and other humanitarian initiatives in the affected region, CWS said in an April 12 report.
More grant applications are coming in. Crutchfield told directors she expects a “fairly substantial grant request” from the Wesley Center, a United Methodist-related organization in Tokyo that has been working with evacuees from the north, especially Filipino migrants.
The UMCOR Philippines Office in Cavite is coordinating with partners there to assist Filipinos or others returning from Japan. Crutchfield also anticipates a grant request from Second Harvest Japan. As of April 8, Second Harvest, a food bank, already had sent trucks laden with relief supplies to northeastern Japan 35 times since the earthquake.
“In a lot of these cases, they’ll probably come back and request additional grants,” Crutchfield said.
Preparing for May
At the Asian Rural Institute, temporary repairs will be made to the second-floor kitchen and dining hall, which seats about 90 people, in the Koinonia House, but the bottom floor will remain closed. An inspector found that the house’s frame was weakened when it was twisted during the earthquake.
The inspector does not believe the building is in a state of imminent collapse, but he recommends minimizing its use of it and replacing it as soon as possible, according to the institute’s damage report.
Second Harvest Japan workers unload relief supplies in Sendai. Photo courtesy of Second Harvest Japan.
Although the two-story main building, which is used for offices, the library and classroom space, was not structurally compromised, the inspector also recommended its replacement in the near future.
Other immediate repairs include ensuring the safety of the men’s and women’s dormitories; fixing the campus-wide water system; moving items from the main building to two prefab storage facilities; and replacing damaged rice-storage containers. A concrete pigpen will be rebuilt within the year.
The institute also plans to help community members and evacuees affected by the disaster as it continues to provide food assistance and serves as a reception point for donations of food and materials.
Additional concerns — over which the staff has no control — are the radiation levels in the air and water, which they continually monitor, and the perception that food sold at the institute’s farm is unsafe. The Asian Rural Institute is close to the southern border of the Fukushima prefecture, where the Japanese government has asked farmers to delay plowing for spring planting.
“There is great concern on the part of (the institute) about guaranteeing the safety of our invited overseas students,” the institute’s report said. “As a contingency measure, we are looking into other possible locations that we could conduct the first part of our training.”
To support UMCOR’s assistance to relief efforts in Japan, donations can be made here.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.