Cocoro's 10th Visit to Rikuzentakata | Mary Atkinson

Cocoro’s 10th Visit to Rikuzentakata- May 2014

Whilst media news moves swiftly on to current disasters, the local people in Japan are still suffering in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami of March 2011 which destroyed so many lives, buildings and hopes for the future. My involvement with COCORO charity grows stronger every day as we recognise the need for continued support to help these strong people cope with long-term depression and trauma. COCORO charity provides aromatherapy and positive touch to help bring comfort and peace of mind. We are also training local people to gain new aromatherapy and reflexology skills to share with others in the community.

cocoro b and b

In May 2014, Takiko Ando, founder of COCORO, and a team of therapists visited the area for the tenth time since the disaster. Please take some time to read her moving report.

1.  The Current Situation

Whole areas of Rikuzentakata city were damaged by the Tsunami and the plan is to move the whole town to the mountains. The wreckage has now been replaced by thousands of trees from the mountains. When we were there (May, 2014) a huge pipeline to convey soil from the mountains was under construction along the coast.  This pipeline will save a lot of time as removing soil from the mountains was expected to take more than ten years if dumper trucks transferred it.

Pine tree 1

Some roads are sunken and some have not recovered yet, so there are limited roads in this town.  This leads to traffic jams and we saw lot of trucks from early morning till late night every day. With so much traffic, it seems very dangerous for children and the elderly to cross the road and even take a walk.  Some kindergarten teachers said some small children do not know the phrase “going for a walk” as they have never experienced it.

The playgrounds of schools are still full of temporary houses. Rikuzentakata city created more than 80 evacuation shelters, and at its peak housed over 10,000 people.  55 temporary accommodation areas still remain and 4722 people still live in there. (April, 2014)  This means that over half the local people have experienced the same stressful lifestyle since the disaster even 3 years passed. It makes continuing our work even more important.

We found people struggle with the ‘situation gap’ at the moment.  The ‘situation gap’ means the extent of their losses due to the Tsunami.  This is different for everyone.  If a lady lost her son, for example, the next person may have lost their whole family.  People cannot easily talk about how they feel. However, as time goes by, some may have more money than others, and some may have greater chance of moving away from the temporary houses.

lady and heart 1

Our local team of Aroma Care Workers (ACW) ‘Cocoro Ria’ told us that the local people need mental health care from them, but they also need support from the outside, as they can be more open to the people from outside.  This is because they may not see us again, so they can talk more about their private feelings with us.

coroco report 3

We have been seeing their mental health improve, but it seems like their stress levels are getting higher – this is because we are only seeing the people who are living in the temporary houses.  They expect to be there for at least two more years.

cocoro therapy

The number of visits from other charities is decreasing, but there are other charity workers still continuing their work.  However, Cocoro is unique in that we have trained local Aroma Care Workers.(ACW)  The idea of the project to teach the local people to heal the local people was a great success.  They told us that ONLY ACW have been trained after the disaster to work to heal the people in their own town.  They were very proud of themselves.  They also say there is great meaning in their work as they are not only just giving a massage, but also telling the story of how many people all over the world are supporting Cocoro.

cocoro photo book

ACWs normally work during the daytime in the temporary houses so most of the people they visit are the elderly people.  Some are looking forward to have a massage every month as ACWs have been already working for six months now.  I always believe that healing is not only actually giving something, but also receiving a lot of energy and love from others.  One ACW who has just retired as the principal of kindergarten told me that she had worked there for 40 years and many of the children were lost to the Tsunami. She said: ‘I could not even imagine that I would find something where I can be “myself”. It is my new mission to live for.’ Cocoro was working for that kinderkarten when she was still the principal.  As founder of Cocoro, it is so heartwarming to know that she is now GIVING a massage for somebody else.

ACW 9

We spend a lot of time together with people in this town.  Although we only visit a few times a year, we have been going to 4 years now.  Everyone looks forward to seeing us and is happy to work for us.

2.  Our work at this time

The local members of Cocoro Ria, the Aroma Care Workers (ACW), told us there was a need for foot massage in the temporary houses especially for the elderly.  Therefore, we prepared a 2 day Foot Reflexology Course to teach them a new skill on this visit.

Seven members of Cocoro visited at this time. One team worked together to run the courses. The other team gave aromatherapy massages to the teachers in the kindergartens and nurseries, and also the elderly people in the disaster area.

ACw 11

Foot Reflexology Course

We invited Ms. Reiko Tomino (Principal of International Medical Spa Institute in Tokyo) to Rikuzentakata to teach this course.  We were surprised at how the ACWs had become familiar with massage  Last year, when they first learnt hand massage, their touch was like a feather, but now they have confidence and experience.  They have become very good therapists.  They are really motivated to heal the people in the town and 13 ACW out of 20 attended a 2 day weekday course.  I gave an hour’s orientation session but I am planning to have another meeting with them in July.   They are our ambassadors and tell us the type of work that is most beneficial for the local people. We always listen the people’s views before we proceed to the next step.

coroco report 4

Aromatherapy Massage for teachers in kindergarten

Three therapists worked very hard to give 15 minutes hand / shoulder / foot massage for teachers and staff.  We were surprised to discover that many people are still taking sleeping tablets and tranquilizers.  Some people say they have just started to drink alcohol too.  This shows that time is not always the best medicine for people and they may need a little extra support.  Therapists realize that the people lower their voices when they talk about the day of Tsunami.  They can be more open about daily life with ACWs but they still need therapists from the outside to enable them to be free to express their deeper emotions.

cororo consult

Aromatherapy Massage for elderly

We were surprised that a lot of elderly people in the temporary houses are still working.  They say they are afraid for their future, so they would like to earn as much as possible.  Even those around 70 years of age are working in the daytime.  So we met a lot of people who are over 90.  One old man who is 97 years old hardly talks about himself but always comes to our massage.  This was the third time we had seen him.  He lives in a temporary house on his own and always stays on in our massage room when his massage has finished.

takiko and elderly man

 

3.  Future Plans

When the ACWs set up the local team “Cocoro Ria”, I thought we may only need to support them this year.  However, they tell us the people still need us, therapists from the outside of their prefecture.  I started this charity work as I did not want to see any elderly people die in the temporary houses.  This happened a lot in Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, in my home town.  I think now is the stage they really need extra care from reliable people.  We are not continuing our work forever, we will have reached our goal when they say they do not need us any more.  I expect the balance of having people working from the inside and the outside is important at this time.  Keiko Sugawara (Local Co-ordinator) and I are planning to have a meeting with the ACWs in July to hear their views and talk about how we should work on from now.  We wanted to give more time for the Foot Reflexology Course on this visit, so we had no time to discuss the future with them.

takiko and ACW

We had also no time for children as they were busy preparing for their sports meeting on that coming weekend, so we will work with the children next autumn.  The Positive Touch for Kids course for teachers was postponed as well.

In July, we will go to the area for the meeting with the ACWs and not for massage. We feel it is important to spend time with the ACWs because they are the ones who can really care for the people. We will listen to their views and also support their motivation, skills, and of course their budget.  We will pay for their insurance, any materials they need for work, and expenses.  I will make a future plan after coming back from Rikuzentakata in July.

cocoro at end

 Supporting Cocoro

If you’d like to support the work of Cocoro, then please contact Mary Atkinson (Cocoro UK representative) who will be very happy to hear from you.

 

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