Hope and resilience in aftermath of disaster

Ms Ewao Terashima's seaside home was destroyed by the disaster. Here, she introduces her dog, Rocky, to Ms Kulvinnder Kaur.
Senior citizens living in a temporary housing complex in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture, warm up before a Nordic walking session organised by the Japanese Red Cross Society. PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI/SRC
Fisherman Kenji Matsuzawa, 62, escaped the tsunami as he was out shopping when disaster struck. Senior citizens living in a temporary housing complex in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture, warm up before a Nordic walking session organised by the Japanese Red
Ms Ewao Terashima’s seaside home was destroyed by the disaster. Here, she introduces her dog, Rocky, to Ms Kulvinnder Kaur. PHOTO: RACHEL NG/SRC
Republic Polytechnic students (from left) Rachel Ng, Marcus Benedict Tan, Kane Raynard Goh, Arif Suaini, Azmi Athni, Shiona Oosha Raj, Kulvinnder Kaur and Hasif Hasny visited the affected areas in Japan last June. Their photos and videos from the tri
Mrs Naoko Koakazawa, 69, (far left) shares kimono-sewing tips with residents of Otsuchi, a town that lost 10 per cent of its population to the tsunami. PHOTO: KANE RAYNARD GOH/SRC
Mrs Naoko Koakazawa, 69, (far left) shares kimono-sewing tips with residents of Otsuchi, a town that lost 10 per cent of its population to the tsunami.
Fisherman Kenji Matsuzawa, 62, escaped the tsunami as he was out shopping when disaster struck. PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI/SRC
Fisherman Kenji Matsuzawa, 62, escaped the tsunami as he was out shopping when disaster struck. Senior citizens living in a temporary housing complex in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture, warm up before a Nordic walking session organised by the Japanese Red
Republic Polytechnic students (from left) Rachel Ng, Marcus Benedict Tan, Kane Raynard Goh, Arif Suaini, Azmi Athni, Shiona Oosha Raj, Kulvinnder Kaur and Hasif Hasny visited the affected areas in Japan last June. Their photos and videos from the trip are now on display at the roving exhibition. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Poly students share stories of survivors of Japan's 2011 quake in roving exhibition

A chilling silence fell over a group of Singaporean students as they stood inside a grey building in Iwate prefecture in Japan.

Vine-like cables hung across a gaping hole in the wall and the ground was covered in debris. The nine students, from Republic Polytechnic, were in a place that used to serve as a rest stop for tourists.

Said Ms Rachel Ng, 20: "I felt shivers down my spine and the severity of the damage hit me hard."

It has been five years since a quake-triggered tsunami hit Fukushima and two other prefectures, Iwate and Miyagi, in north-eastern Japan on March 11, 2011.

The building the students visited now stands as a memorial to the lives lost, reported to be 15,885. About 100,000 people were displaced by the disaster, which resulted in the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima.

The students visited some of the worst-hit - but now certified safe - coastal communities from June 4 to 13 last year. It was a collaboration with the Singapore Red Cross (SRC), which had raised $35.7 million to help fund rebuilding. The sum, donated by people here soon after the tragedy, was Singapore's largest disaster relief contribution to a single country.

The students' photos and videos from the trip are now on display at a roving exhibition, called The Strength Of The Human Spirit, until April 3. They have also launched a photo book, available at the exhibition at $25. All sales proceeds from the over 1,000 copies will go to welfare services run by the SRC.

Said SRC chief executive Benjamin William: "We wanted to tell the stories of the survivors and account to our donors."

For the students, all from the School of Management and Communication, the trip was an eye-opener. Said leader Kane Raynard Goh, 22: "Despite the hardship (the survivors) had gone through, they were so open and welcomed us into their homes."

Mr Azmi Athni, 20, said the elderly at the temporary housing complex in Iwate were dancing merrily when they visited. "They pulled us in to join them. They did not look like victims at all."

Almost five years on, some survivors are still living in temporary housing. Yet, they are full of hope.

Said Ms Ng: "All one senior had was a garbage bag containing her belongings and her husband's altar, (but)... she remained optimistic and waited patiently for her permanent house."

Ms Kulvinnder Kaur, 21, said: "I am now more grateful for the simple things we tend to take for granted - my friends, family, home and Singapore."

• The Strength Of The Human Spirit exhibition will be held at ION Orchard, VivoCity, Westgate and Star Vista. Admission is free. For more details, visit the SRC website at www.redcross.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'Hope and resilience in aftermath of disaster'. Print Edition | Subscribe