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Habitat for Humanity Japan ~Giving Everybody a Home that Offers Peace-of-Mind~

Program Coordinator Ms. Yoshiko Tokuchi (L) and Ms. Saori Machimura, of the Communications and Resources Development Department (R)

Program Coordinator Ms. Yoshiko Tokuchi (L) and
Ms. Saori Machimura, of the Communications and Resources Development Department (R)

July’s Close Up introduces Habitat for Humanity Japan (hereinafter “Habitat Japan”). As the Japanese branch of Habitat for Humanity (hereinafter “Habitat”), an international non-governmental organization that specializes in matters of housing; both domestically and internationally through the resolving of living-environment issues, Habitat Japan engages in activities that seek to address the issue of poverty. On this occasion, we were fortunate enough to speak about the organization’s principles and activities to Ms. Saori Machimura, from Habitat Japan’s Communications and Resources Development Department. We also spoke to Program Coordinator Ms. Yoshiko Tokuchi, who has temporarily returned from Nepal, about Habitat Japan’s support activities in response to the April earthquake.

Q. As an organization, on what principles was the establishment of Habitat based?

A. Ms. Machimura Habitat aims to realize “a world where every person can find somewhere decent to live.” It is said that approximately 1.6 billion people globally either have no home in which to reside, or that despite having somewhere to live, the environment that confronts them is unsuitable. Because people are unable to reside in suitable homes, they are unable to ensure the health and safety of family members, and without somewhere such to relax, they also fail to feel an incentive to work. This means that children are subsequently unable to attend school due to the instability of household finances. Furthermore, within such a lifestyle with its immediate proximity to instability, children also can’t hold any dreams regarding their own futures. What can break this tragically-negative poverty cycle is a home where people can reside with peace-of-mind. Because they can reside in such homes, individuals can carry with them a hope of being able to live as normal human beings, and this sentiment becomes an impetus that allows them to get on with their lives. Thus, through housing, Habitat supports people in terms of allowing them to be able to lead their lives independently.

©Habitat for Humanity Japan ©Habitat for Humanity Japan

Homes which offer peace-of-mind represent the first step in having hope for the future.
Habitat is working to improve living environments in approximately 80 countries around the world.
©Habitat for Humanity Japan

Q. What sort of activities does Habitat Japan engage in?

A. Ms. Machimura Since its commencement, Habitat Japan has conducted its “Global Village Program” (GV) which involves dispatching volunteers overseas to participate in the building of housing. Centering on students, this program has close to 1,000 participants annually, and these volunteers work together to construct houses along with the families who plan to occupy them (people we refer to as “home partner”). Through their participation, volunteers come to appreciate that there are areas of the world where possessing a house in which to relax does not represent the societal norm, while the home partner who are living locally in conditions of poverty have their spirits lifted by the influx of help from Japan. Furthermore, the GV Program offers a number of other advantages in that through the provision of labor, it is possible to keep a lid on construction costs, etc.
Additionally, in regions around the world impacted either by natural disasters or war, Habitat Japan conducts support in the form of emergency assistance. In this country as well up until March of this year, we supported recovery efforts in areas of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures seriously damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

©Habitat for Humanity Japan ©Habitat for Humanity Japan

It is possible to participate in the GV Program even if you lack a background in construction.
The program offers a valuable experience, both to volunteers and local people.
©Habitat for Humanity Japan

Q. There was serious damage caused to buildings after the Nepalese earthquake of April 25th as well.

A. Ms. Tokuchi Yes. When the earthquake struck, I was actually in the Nepalese capital of Katmandu working on an earthquake disaster-prevention project. Although the shaking was rather pronounced, as a Japanese person I felt that the quake was perhaps a weak 5 on the Japanese seismic scale. Even though I knew that buildings in Nepal were weak in terms of their quake-resistance, speaking truthfully, I didn’t believe that the resulting damage would be so large. However, once I had an opportunity to review the situation, I realized that many houses had collapsed and it turned out that more than 8,000 people had been killed. This reality made me strongly aware as to the differences in disaster-prevention consciousness and policies, and the differences in the ability of buildings to withstand earthquakes. Furthermore, next to some collapsed houses people had improvised shelters in the aftermath of the quake, while others returned home to buildings that were in danger of immediate collapse and they proceeded to prepare their meals as normal. Indeed, more than 100 people also died as a result of the aftershock that struck on May 12. In Japan, due to the threat presented by aftershocks after major earthquakes, it is generally accepted that dangerous buildings should not be approached. However, because this issue is not well-enough understood among the Nepalese population, more people died as a result of secondary damage occurring due to aftershocks.

©Habitat for Humanity Japan ©Habitat for Humanity Japan

Brick buildings have a weak resistance to earthquakes, and damage focused on such structures (L).
The picture on the right shows survivors living in tents.
©Habitat for Humanity Japan

Q. Please tell me about the support activities that Habitat is conducting in Nepal.

A. Ms. Tokuchi In disaster areas globally, Habitat distributes shelter kits that are matched to the situations and needs that confront survivors. In Nepal as well, a decision was made to offer support to more than 10,000 households. As emergency assistance, many relief organizations distribute plastic sheeting. However, Habitat excels in providing what comes next. We distribute temporary shelter kits that include construction materials such as galvanized iron, steel frameworks and reinforcements, etc. For repairing damaged houses we offer home repair kits that include tools and building materials. Furthermore, in accordance with the next phase of recovery, we offer support from a medium-to-long term perspective. This is done by resolving housing issues through the construction of core houses that can be lived in permanently.

©Habitat for Humanity Japan ©Habitat for Humanity Japan

The left-hand photo shows a home repair kit that was distributed in Haiti,
while the right-hand photo shows a temporary shelter with a galvanized iron roof.
Such tools and building materials also come in handy when building new homes.
©Habitat for Humanity Japan

Q. Does Habitat Japan plan to carry out support activities independently?

©Habitat for Humanity Japan

A. Ms. Tokuchi Yes, we do. We have a project whereby teams of specialists visit damaged houses and pass judgement on the dangers of each. In that this project is conducted in tandem with Habitat’s distribution of shelter kits, by distributing temporary shelter kits to people whose homes need to be rebuilt and home repair kits to people whose houses can be repaired and lived in once again, we can offer a pinpoint service by providing the necessary support to those people who require it. Furthermore, at the same time as these activities in Nepal, we plan to offer information to survivors regarding financial support offered by their government. Through the provision of such information, although by an indirect means, we would like to offer a form of financial support to people as they look to reconstruct their lives.

Q. What about the earthquake disaster-prevention project you were working on before the Nepalese earthquake struck?

A. Ms. Tokuchi Houses in Nepal that use rows of bricks layered upon one another quickly collapse during earthquakes. Accordingly, what we want to expand in Nepal is the use of plastic bands used in the packing of luggage. This is a method called “PP Band Seismic Strengthening”. To explain its purpose simply, it aims to create “Lifesaving Houses”. By being able to create stronger structural walls by using PP bands constructed in a mesh format in order to sandwich them, preventing the instant and total collapse of buildings will become possible, and the window of time created will allow building occupants to escape. Habitat Japan is conducting this project while cooperating in research and development with the University of Tokyo. Concerning the advantages of using PP bands, they are very cheap which means that they can also be purchased by the lower socio-economic segments of Nepalese society. Furthermore, research as to what kind of damage occurs and where is being carried out in conjunction with the judgments that are made regarding damaged houses which I mentioned earlier. In the future, based on this data we would like to proceed with the PP band project.

An advantage of the PP Band Seismic Method is that it can be deployed by people after they undergo simple training;
the skills of a professional carpenter are not required.
©Habitat for Humanity Japan

Q. Please offer our readers a final message.


A. Ms. Machimura Although unfortunate that roughly one month after the earthquake media coverage has declined and public interest in the current situation in Nepal has waned, it is heartening that members of campus chapters at some 33 universities nationwide are still collecting donations, etc., at railway stations on our behalf. In that Habitat is an organization that excels in medium-to-long term support activities, I would ask that your readers continue to support our efforts.

■Nepal earthquake donations may be made through the following: