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The Best of People in the Worst of Times: UK community still committed to long-term recovery projects

Article published by BCCJ Acumen, March 2014
Available in English

By Julian Ryall

It has been so cold in north-eastern Japan this winter that the water in the toilet of Jamie El-Banna's makeshift home freezes overnight. It is also dark inside the headquarters of It's Not Just Mud (INJM), as most of the glass that was smashed when the tsunami roared in from the Pacific nearly three years ago has only been replaced by plywood boards.

Still, it's home for the former paralegal secretary from Cricklewood, north-west London, who decided he could not sit by and watch in the aftermath of the worst natural disaster in living memory to strike Japan. El-Banna’s attitude reflects that of the entire British community—comprising corporations, diplomats and individuals—in the three years since those shocking scenes of destruction were aired on TV.

As we mark the third anniversary of the disaster, it is clear that Britons have had a huge impact on recovery and reconstruction in the Tohoku region, and that these benefactors have every intention of continuing their efforts.

El-Banna, 29, arrived in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, in June 2011 looking to help with cleanup and recovery, but quickly realised an effective organisational structure for would-be volunteers was missing. That led to the creation of INJM, which has since been granted nonprofit organisation status and operates out of borrowed properties in the Watanoha district of the city.

"There is not much we can do at the moment because the locals tell us it’s been the worst winter in 80 years in Ishinomaki and we have 50cm or more of snow lying on the ground", El-Banna told BCCJ ACUMEN.