Students and faculty from foreign universities visit areas affected by the disaster – Experiences of the APRU Summer School – (Vol. 31, Part 2)
Field Visit Afternoon: Tagajo City
After lunch, we travelled to Tagajo City to begin the afternoon course. Tagajo was also severely damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
First, we visited the disaster public housing in Sakuragi, and listened to the explanations by Mr. Hiroshi Suzuki, formerly the manager of the Construction Department of Tagajo City. Since this area was seriously impacted by the tsunami, this public housing complex was built making use of this experience; the first floor has a pilotis structure with no residential space, the buildings have passageways and tsunami evacuation stairs, and there are stockpiles to be used in case of disasters. Furthermore, there are facilities for children and the elderly to live together in the community.
In the meeting place of the public housing, we were welcomed by the residents. Four of them answered to the questions raised by the participants.
A participant asked, “Were there hardships before moving into this public housing?” A resident replied, “There were hard times, but we received support,” expressing appreciation.
A resident who remembered the visit last year by the Summer School participants commented, “Another year has passed since your last visit. I have been encouraged by your revisit.”
It was a precious opportunity for the participants engaging in DRR overseas to listen to the voices of the residents in public housing, through interpretation, prompting active discussions
Next, we moved by bus to tour the city library, which is part of the city’s redevelopment project, then to Miyagi Prefectural Tagajo High School, our final destination.
Tagajo High School has been committed in DRR activities since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and this April, established a Disaster Science Department to raise individuals who can contribute to the local community by gaining knowledge and skills on DRR. IRIDeS and Tagajo High School have concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) this June, and are cooperating in various aspects.
At Tagajo High School, the high school students made a presentation in English on how the school was when the earthquake and tsunami occurred, and the kinds of DRR activities they have carried out. Afterwards, the high school students and participants in each table took part in group work. The students used the “Gensai Pocket” which is full of knowledge on disaster mitigation, to discuss topics such as preparation for disasters in everyday life, also in English.
In the table the writer sat, participants from Hawaii, India, Philippines, and Myanmar talked about the kinds of disasters that frequently occur in their country, and DRR education in each country, and exchanged ideas with high school students.
Finally, the participants made comments admiring the students of Tagajo High School that they presented their ideas in English, and supported their ambitions to be engaged in DRR, ending with a round of applause.
The bus with the participants arrived in Sendai City early in the evening.
The following are some participants the writer met during the field visit.
Ms. Bi Jurong, originally from Sichuan Province, China, and now a M.A. student in the National University of Singapore.
“I began to strive to study DRR after experiencing the Great Sichuan Earthquake in 2008 when I was a junior high school student, having seen many people lose their lives. I am now studying civil engineering, and am especially interested in reclaimed land. I decided to participate in this Summer School on the recommendation of my mentor.”
Ms. Noor Diyana Fazan Ahmad, a Ph.D. student in Universiti Putra Malaysia, researching on community disaster preparedness.
“Japan is known for DRR based on local communities, and the Summer School has been a very good learning experience. I would like to participate again, if I have the chance.”
Mr. John Wilson, Ph.D. student in University of California Davis, conducting research on computer simulations of earthquakes. He has participated in last year’s Summer School as well.
“During last year’s Summer School, residents were moving into the disaster public housing. It was a valuable experience to be able to ask questions to the residents of the public housing, which started this year.”
In conclusion: After experiencing the field visit
It was the first time the writer took part in this field visit. It was a fruitful experience, with a full schedule, and the writer was able to understand why the APRU Summer School has been highly appreciated.
Participants of the Summer School listen to lectures on DRR for two days intensively, and after taking part in group work, go on a one day field visit.
This tour was carried out with the full cooperation of the cities of Natori and Tagajo (both have concluded MoUs with IRIDeS), local governments that have faced the disaster, and have devoted their efforts in the recovery process. Furthermore, there were opportunities to communicate with the residents of the public housing and students of Tagajo High School.
It is a diverse and action-oriented program that was realized with the close collaboration among the research and education institution, local governments and local communities.
The participants were from various countries, majoring in areas such as civil engineering, architecture, geology and geography, and are mainly specialists or studying to become specialists in DRR, which means they already have knowledge in this field.
By accompanying the field visit, the writer was able to feel the eagerness of the participants to try to deeply understand, how it was during the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and the recovery from the disaster, as well as DRR activities in general in Japan, while comparing the situation with that of their own country, to make use of this experience in the future.
The full content of the program provided by the organizers, and the knowledge and positive attitude of the participants enrich this event.
As the participants who come from various countries actively discuss on the common issue of DRR during the Summer School, it also becomes an excellent place for international exchange.
It is understandable that applications reached the designated number of applicants, and that there were people who repeatedly participate, although participants need to fund their travel and accommodation costs on their own.
During this trip, a university faculty member from Taiwan highly valued the event, commenting, “I have never seen this kind of case in Taiwan, where an academic institution actually collaborates so closely with local organizations.” Then, the writer was asked, “How is research and practice balanced?”
Based on the experiences in public relations activities, the writer answered, “Although there are often debates on the difficulties of carrying out both research and practice within IRIDeS, as the mission of our institute is action-oriented DRR research, I feel we must continue to be involved in both areas.”
Concerning this year’s APRU Summer School, Associate Professor Izumi stated “This year, we had the highest number of participants from the most number of countries, probably because there is still high interest from abroad in the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and the recovery process, even five years after the disaster. Next, I would like to further develop the program so that participants can understand not only lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, but DRR from a more broad and versatile approach.”
IRIDeS will continue to make every effort towards pioneering a new field of disaster science, where research and practice work together in harmony.
For further information or questions, please contact IRIDeS Public Relations Office:
+81-22-752-2049 or koho-office*irides.tohoku.ac.jp
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