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Filipinas survive in tsunami zone

Long-stay residents help each other to get their lives back

Amelia Sasaki stands amid the rubble left by the disaster. “All
the local people are my family,” she says Amelia Sasaki stands amid the rubble left by the disaster. “All the local people are my family,” she says
  • Japan
  • August 11, 2011
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Along the Sanriku Coast shared by Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures live many Catholic women from the Philippines married to Japanese fishermen. More than 100 of these Filipinas were members of a group which aimed to provide mutual support in their adopted homeland. However, in the tsunami of March 11, two-thirds of them lost their homes, and four individuals died in the surging waters.

Amelia Sasaki, the group’s leader, came to Japan 31 years ago and has lived in the Miyagi town of Minamisanriku, about 370km northeast of Tokyo, for 26 years now. She has led an active life of volunteering here, offering her services as an interpreter for schools and the police while teaching both English and Japanese, among other things.

Amelia’s husband used to operate a substitute driving service, which assisted drivers in getting their cars to their destination (for instance, after a night of drinking) [*2]. He also sold prepared bento (traditional Japanese all-in-one) lunches and seafood procured in the coastal waters nearby. But he lost his livelihood when the tsunami struck.

“Everything was swept away—my husband’s office and our home and the classroom I ran. All that was left was the hole from the toilet,” Amelia said.

In all, fifteen Filipina wives were left in Minamisanriku; one had died. Among the survivors, ten had lost their homes completely. Both the women and their husbands were bereft of employment. Now, they are doing all they can to support their families in domestic matters while also caring for children.

Immediately after the disaster, Amelia could do nothing by cry, but she never lost hope. “As long as we’re alive, we’ll manage somehow. I was always able to tell myself that, even if we had to start from less than nothing, it would be OK.”

Even as some around her urged her to flee to Tokyo or other, safer places, the thought of leaving Minamisanriku never entered Amelia’s mind.

“For me personally, it took three or four years for the locals here to really accept me. Now there’s no one around here who doesn’t know me, and everyone is (just like) my family. Even if I went somewhere else, I’d have to start from zero. So if I have to begin from scratch either way, I decided I would rather do what I can for everyone here,” she said. “Right now, it feels like I’m starting my life over again, like it’s a second life.”

Normelita Chiba is another member of Amelia’s group living in Minamisanriku. Her husband lost his hotel in the devastation.

“My husband has kidney problems and needs kidney dialysis, but the hospital here was washed away,” said Normelita. “I didn’t know what to do, so I called Amelia and got some information. Every day was terrible, with nothing but stress and worry. But with my husband in the hospital, I just have to do my best.”

Amelia says that what she most wants right now is work. She has put all her remaining assets into the purchase of a prefabricated hut where she can reopen her English classroom.

“We need to start thinking less about what the administration can do for us and more about what we can do for ourselves. It takes too much time to wait for the government. Right now, there’s nothing to do but what we can do ourselves.”
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