“Japan is home. we’ve been here for too long, to do anything other than stay.”

アンジェラ・オルティスさん

Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: itokuhashi@myeyestokyo.com

 

Angela Ortiz (USA) Part1
Director of Administration of O.G.A. For AID

My Eyes Tokyo flew to Tohoku finally in the summer 2012. We wanted to see an American woman who’s been supporting the 3.11 earthquake evacuees and residents in a quake-stricken area since the disaster occurred. And we wanted to say thank you to her.

Isao Tokuhashi, My Eyes Tokyo organizer, sent a friend request to Angela Ortiz on Facebook in 2011 because he was going to ask her to tell us what was going on in Tohoku at that time on My Eyes Tokyo radio. But her voice was not broadcasted because she was really busy during the year. And we were always saying on the airwaves that we would be in Tohoku in the near future.

Then we finally could see her. She was really busy and we were also busy, so we talked for only an hour and something, but she shared what she saw and what she felt and what she’s done so far with us very much.

This interview is divided into two parts. In the first part, we hear how she and her team helped people right after the earthquake. Then we tell you about their long-term projects for supporting residents in Tohoku.

*Interview at Sea Side Center (Minami-sanriku, Miyagi Pref)

日本語

Photos by O.G.A. For AID

 

“Japan is home”

My family has lived in Japan since 1986. My dad really like Japan so he came here a long time ago. My mom as well. They really love Japan.

I have 11 siblings and I’m No.4. My mother, my sister, my brother and I were all teachers, mostly early child education. But we’ve all worked at international schools. My parents own an international school in Aomori.

After the earthquake, a discussion did come up because the nuclear plants in Fukushima spiked and it became clear we were in a real dangerous nuclear crisis. The family of my brother-in-law, who is Australian, said, “OK, come to Australia!”. My mom’s family in America said, “Everybody, come! Get out of there!”. Even my father’s family in Colombia were saying, “Everybody, leave there! We’ll take care of you”. We thought that we should consider sending our kids to stay with them for a while. But my brother Jesse said, “Japan is home. we’ve been here for too long, to do anything other than stay.” The earthquake occurred right in a backyard of our place. That’s why it was natural for us to stay in Japan and help whomever we can.

 

Initial support action started from the north end

The day after the earthquake, two Norwegian journalists came to Aomori City on the night of March 11. They were looking for a driver and my father was asked to take them to the devastated area. He offered to drive down to here in Minami-sanriku on March 12.

Erwin Ortiz, Angela’s father, is driving from Aomori to Minami-sanriku
March 12 2011

After they arrived here, my father met a principle of an elementary school in Minami-sanriku. He talked to several mothers and realized that they needed very simple items like hand creams, socks, underwear and jackets.

So he called my sister who was visiting Japan from Australia with her two daughters and husband. He told my sister Paula the situation and she said, “Shall I start gathering supplies that these people need?”. My sister said yes and she called their friends in Aomori. “If anybody wants to donate to Minami-sanriku, please come to the Ortiz Global Academy (*her parents’ school in Aomori) and drop off supplies”. That’s the beginning of our support action for quake victims.

We opened a Paypal account and people could transfer money through Facebook. So my relatives, my friends and my friends’ friends sent some amount of money to us. That was very helpful to purchase trucks and gas.


Gas shortages make traveling in Tohoku very risky at that time
On the highway towards Minami-sanriku, March 2011

 

Family arrived in a devastated area

During this time, my brother and his wife were in Sendai. They escaped quickly out of Sendai and went to Yamagata right after the quake. They immediately started bringing supplies from Yamagata to the people in Sendai.

I was in Tokyo at that time of the earthquake in Tokyo. My sister called me and I told her that I would be there on March 16. So I flew to Aomori with my daughter.

On the 17th we were also joined by the Watabe brothers. They are acquaintances from Tokyo who came to volunteer and the elder brother, Peter, was a chef in Tokyo until the events of March 11 2011. Then all my family and volunteer staff in Aomori gathered, sorted, packed and loaded up three 2-ton trucks, these were full of supplies from the people of Aomori. Misawa Airbase which is located in Aomori Pref offered us of bottled water by the ton.

 
Left: Supplies donated by the residents of Aomori for the victims of the tsunami (March 17 2011)
Right: Bringing supplies to tsunami survivors (Minami-sanriku, March 19 2011)

At that time, there was a shortage of gasoline and a radiation leak. We heard that the convoy of the Self Defense Force was stuck on the highway because they ran out of the gas. Also we were still having power cuts throughout Japan. But we went ahead to Minami-sanriku and dropped off supplies. We arrived here on March 19, 2011.

The day before we left Aomori, my former coworker gave me a package. Enclosed with it was a note reading, “If you find the Hotel Kanyo in Minami-sanriku, there is a man named Yosuke Watanabe. Please give him this package.” There were newspapers and letters from his mother. I told him I would try. I remembered him that I used to work with him many years ago. When I was 23, I was working at another hotel with him as a front desk staff.

Hotel Kanyo
Photo by My Eyes Tokyo

After meeting with Yosuke in Minami-sanriku I gave him the package, I asked him. “Can we send a team down here for a few days? We want to see what’s going on and how we can help people here”. Then my brother, his wife, myself and Watabe san came down to Hotel Kanyo and stayed with local residents here in their dormitories for five days.

While we were in Minami-sanriku, we visited some local shelters and houses and played games with kids. We brought supplies to evacuees. Houses in the area were half destroyed.

Playing with kids at a shelter
Junior High School in Minami-sanriku, April 2011

 

“No one left behind”

We needed to know the situation and needed to get connected with local people. So we got a small vehicle and went to places to talk to them. We heard where supplies were coming from, how many children and old people were living there, their medical needs, how they were coping with the situation.

Staffs use a scooter to get around and visit people and gather information
March 2011

The one thing that we noticed was the shortage of water because of disorganization of phone lines at that times. Normally people can drink boiled mountain water or boiled sea water. But at that time, water was contaminated by garbages or debris.

However fortunately, Misawa Airbase gave us tons of water. So we built a distribution system. The only criteria were “No one gets left behind”. In order to receive support residents had to make sure they were looking out for each other, people had to think about others. After a trying it out, they really changed and they became strong communities.

 Water arrived!!!!
April 2011

 

To be continued to Part2 ☞ Click!

 

Angela’s links

O.G.A For AID; http://www.ogaforaid.org/en/
Facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/OGAFORAID