Gardens Grow Hope for 1,740 Survivors

Program helps residents battle post-disaster depression

Photo by Ramona Bajema
Photo by Ramona Bajema

americares quoteWe feel rewarded when we see smiles on people’s faces working in the gardens, and the beautiful flowers and vegetables growing strong.”

—  Peace Boat volunteer

Like most residents in the small coastal town of Ogatsu, Mr. Takahashi lost everything in the earthquake and tsunami -- including his house. He knows that he cannot safely rebuild so close to the water. But, with help from AmeriCares, Mr. Takahashi can do something where his lifelong home once stood – he can grow a garden.

Each day, AmeriCares and local partner Peace Boat sent volunteers to help Mr. Takahashi and hundreds of other residents in and around Ogatsu create gardens. A nurse arrived, too, to monitor the health of the gardeners—taking their blood pressure and watching for signs of stress and depression. From December, 2011 to June, 2012, a total of 174 gardens have been built, helping 1,740 survivors. 

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease, and is especially prevalent in places that have experienced war, deprivation or disaster. In post-earthquake Japan, depression and post-traumatic stress remain a significant health concern, particularly among the displaced.

Since the disaster, many residents have left the area. Elderly people moved closer to hospitals and their adult children. Younger people went to find jobs. Those survivors who remain are somewhat stranded and live in relative isolation, not knowing if their community will be rebuilt, where or when. 

Amid uncertainty, the gardens bring a measure of stability, comfort and community to residents - something they can plan, build and grow. Here, where his living room once stood, Mr. Takahashi planted tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins.

Mr. Takahashi and the other residents cannot have their homes back. But with soil, seeds and help from AmeriCares, they can cultivate hope for the future.