<Fiscal 2011> Exchanging Ideas with People in the Stricken Area
In 2012, KDDI began collaborating with Oraga-Otsuchi Yumehiroba, a general incorporated association established in the town of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture-one area that suffered serious damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. We are concentrating on regular volunteer activities, promoting an understanding of conditions in the affected region and encouraging exchange with the region.
In May 2012, we invited members Oraga-Otsuchi Yumehiroba to the KDDI headquarters in Iidabashi, Tokyo, to discuss activities that have been undertaken to date, future support and held a frank exchange of ideas highlighting future expectations of KDDI.
A Movement that Began with the Desire to Encourage Many People to Visit the Town of Otsuchi
Usuzawa: Although more than a year has passed since the earthquake, recovery in the affected region has not progressed in line with our expectations.
The situation in the town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture is in line with this trend. Of the approximately 100,000 tons of rubble generated by the disaster, approximately 80% are being handled by processing facilities in the city of Kamaishi and the town of Otsuchi; the remaining 20% is being handled in other prefectures. The rubble that was strewn about has been cleared away, but new facilities or buildings are not being built. In the town of Otsuchi, hardly any progress on reconstruction is being made at all.
Iwama: Given that reconstruction was not progressing in the town of Otsuchi, we wanted to take some sort of action to build up the community, believing that this would drive employment, encourage people to visit, and help to create a structure for spending money in the town. We established Oraga-Otsuchi Yumehiroba because we wanted to cultivate change in the town, even if this change was minimal.
As part of this initiative, we set up the Oraga-Otsuchi Reconstruction Cafeteria to encourage many people to visit the town of Otsuchi. Setting up the cafeteria was difficult in many ways because none of the people who were involved with the setup had any cafeteria management experience, but now (as of May 2012), the cafeteria feeds an average of around 100 people per day, and 120-130 people on particularly busy days. In addition to providing food to cafeteria customers, as much as possible we chat with them to hear their memories and experiences so that we can communicate information about the affected region.
Over time, recollections of the earthquake will grow dim. Before that happens, we want to connect with as many people as possible, communicating and responding to the situation as best we can.
Usuzawa: On our end, for companies we are planning volunteer tours and offering programs for training new employees through support of the affected region. In this manner, we are working to provide a basis for communication with numerous companies and organizations. At the same time, nearly every day we host volunteer tours for people who come to visit the town of Otsuchi. This was how we became acquainted with KDDI.
Communication-Focused Volunteer Activities
Dobashi: We have provided various types of assistance. Just after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, we dispatched numerous employees to the affected region to help with reconstruction efforts. We also have a volunteer leave plan in place to support the efforts of individual employees who wanted to help, and we provided funds to assist volunteer activities. This disaster was particularly notable for the wide range of the region it affected. Although the situation aroused employee interest in volunteering, there was some debate as to how we could assist efforts in the area, given that the affected region was so extensive. This situation led us to support Oraga-Otsuchi Yumehiroba, which wanted to take some sort of action to restore their own area. As this group's ideas coincided with KDDI's own thoughts with regard to volunteer activities, we began planning bus tours to the area, soliciting participants from within the Company.
Rather than taking vacation days, bus tours were set up so that around 20 employee volunteers could depart on a bus from Tokyo on Friday evening and return to Tokyo on Sunday night. This arrangement lowered the barrier to participation, as it enabled them to take part without having to use up paid holiday time. Naturally, our volunteer activities placed primary importance on dialog with people in the affected region. We believe that for small groups of around 20 people, maintaining communications with people in the local community is important.
Usuzawa: As our own staff is not extensive, around this number of volunteers is just right. Around 20 is a good number, as this size of group is easy to coordinate and you can follow the activity of all members. I also think that this size of group simplifies communications among individual volunteers.
Dobashi: We want to take into consideration the number of participants as we work to raise volunteer awareness among our employees and their state of acceptance. At present, I believe that this scale of activity is about right.
The actual volunteer activities were concentrated on Saturday. In February 2012, they involved helping to shovel the snow away from paths used for attending junior high school. In April, volunteers began preparing for summer by clearing away trash from seaside bathing areas and cleaning up broken glass. While conducting activities such as these, the volunteers listened to stories by people in the affected region about their earthquake experiences and saw damaged government offices and streets firsthand. A "sharing time" was also arranged so that employees could discuss the day's experiences among themselves. Experiencing the situation in this manner has proved much more effective than television, newspaper or other media reports and at helping people to truly understand truly current conditions. This approach also strengthens the feeling among volunteers that they need to do something to help. Employees who have participated have come back from the experience with a variety of memories. Most feel that they have gained significantly by participating.
Usuzawa: We very much appreciate your help with volunteer activities, but we would be happy just to have people come to visit us. Visitors can enjoy a number of delicious foods in Otsuchi, talk with local residents, get a feel for what the affected region truly is like and some of the things people there have experienced. When they return to their homes, we would hope that visitors would explain to others what the town of Otsuchi was like and talk about some of the foods they enjoyed there. To reconstruct a town that was once completely razed to the ground, the important thing is to encourage many people to visit. From our perspective, spreading awareness of the town of Otsuchi among as many people as possible is of paramount importance.
Dobashi: It always touches my heart to hear those words. Actually setting foot in the area enables one to experience all sorts of things. This allows us to expand the circle of experience to include people that volunteers come into contact with during their daily work, as well as family and friends. Although you commented that we didn't need to do anything in the way of volunteer activities, I believe it is important to always be thinking about what sorts of things we can do. It will be some time before reconstruction is complete, but I would like for our activities to be continuous and long-term. During the process, I would like for us to think about what is most needed at each point, meeting the needs of the times.
The Harvest We Reap from Volunteer Activities
Dobashi: Many of the employees who participate initially feel awkward beforehand because they are working alongside people they don't know. But they gradually learn to know each other as they work together. Joining forces and working toward the same objective fosters communications within the Company. Volunteer activities themselves help to enliven internal relationships. Although aiming to provide support, in the end we turn out to be the ones who are learning. I believe that these activities truly have value from the standpoint of employee education.
Usuzawa: We truly wish to convey our sense of gratitude. When volunteers from KDDI first came, we felt bad that they had to return home right away after spending the entire day doing volunteer activities, so we arranged a small concert, with students from the local junior high school playing wind instruments. At the very least, we want the employees who had made the effort to trek all the way to our town feel happy that they had done so and want to come again. Going forward, we intend to plan programs that are even more extensive, and we hope to propose programs that emphasize interpersonal communications.
KDDI's volunteer efforts targeting the town of Otsuchi have begun to have a significant ripple effect. Awareness of our project has grown among the general population, and we believe the program has the potential to expand even further as major companies make use of the project as part of their new employee training. In addition to corporate participants, nowadays on average around 800 people per month from the general population visit the town of Otsuchi. What makes us happiest is that many of these visitors are families. Within the affected region, many of the people who visit us in Otsuchi do so many times. The media have picked up on this trend, which we appreciate very much.
Dobashi: Although at first I would not have expected this to be the case, now the spirit of cooperation seems to be mutual. Rather than "what can I do for the town of Otsuchi," the feeling seems to be more one of "what can we do that is both good for the Company and for Otsuchi." I am pleased to see this synergistic effect.
Iwama: I hope many more people visit us in Otsuchi. To encourage this, rather than focusing on the town's attractions I believe we need to create plans that create new situations. The activities that we have conducted to date have given us the confidence that this is possible. In this sense, I am truly grateful to KDDI for your cooperation, and I hope that our activities will continue to take numerous different shapes in the future.
Working with the Affected Region to Contribute to True Reconstruction
Usuzawa: Now that more than a year has passed since the earthquake, life in the affected region is slowly beginning to return to normal, but as a matter of fact the number of suicides has risen markedly. Even within Iwate Prefecture, the number of people dying solitary deaths is particularly high in the town of Otsuchi, as temporary housing puts together people from different regions and offers few opportunities for people to leave their rooms and interact with others. Taking these conditions into account, I believe that psychological care of residents has taken on a growing importance. Loneliness is common, especially among older residents, and going forward I believe it will become increasingly important to communicate with these people.
Dobashi: I would like to incorporate psychological care for residents into our future activities. I do not know whether we can meet your expectations, but we would like to do our best.
Iwama: What we really would like is for you not to forget the town of Otsuchi. Conversely, we hope to spread awareness. Our issue is how to create experiences that are so good they will stay in people's heads and never be forgotten. Experiences tend to weather over time, losing their sense of immediacy. Many people died in this earthquake, and many others lost their beloved homes. We want to keep alive the memory of what this earthquake was like and what needs to be done toward future reconstruction.
Usuzawa: Now people come to "the town of Otsuchi, in the affected region." Our ultimate future goal is for people to want simply to go to "the town of Otsuchi." We want to create an atmosphere whereby people feel as if Otsuchi is their second home. Right now, we are taking part in a number of activities to this end, such as promoting employee trips to the coastal areas of Iwate Prefecture and running campaigns that attract people to Iwate Prefecture through specified public-interest businesses.
Dobashi: We will do our best to support your efforts in this sense. I believe it is important for us to continue providing assistance that meets the needs of the affected region. Going forward, we look forward to deepening our dialog with people from Oraga-Otsuchi Yumehiroba and from the town of Otsuchi. We will listen to local people's needs and consider support programs that will help to meet those needs. We will also work to maintain or improve our support structure to ensure that it is not transient. I aim for us to contribute aggressively to community development to ensure that we are truly of help in reconstructing the town of Otsuchi. While maintaining our ongoing efforts, we would also like to look at tie-ups in other areas where we might be of assistance.
I look forward to meeting you in Otsuchi with the words, "Hello, I'm home again!" Thank you very much for your time today.
Iwama, Usuzawa: We also thank you. Let us meet again in the town of Otsuchi.