Reflections on the Nature of Community

My Kesennuma by Kyoko T. Jones

I am Japanese, but not from Kesennuma. Still I know and have great fondness for Kesennuma. For almost ten years I worked with the people of Kesennuma through the Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, and Master Teacher Program. During that time, I learned that Kesennuma is a special place. It draws on both the mountains and sea for its sustenance. Its people are committed to sustainably developing natural and human resources. During their work with our projects, they became so committed to the principles of sustainable development that Kesennuma became recognized by the United Nations as a leader in education for sustainable development.

Through the MTP, it has participated in exchanges of teachers and students with various parts of the United States. It has worked hard through the use of new media, such as videoconferencing to connect its classrooms with ones in places as diverse as Madison, Wisconsin and the small town of Callisburg in Texas. Its teachers have helped to train American teachers and UN experts in the ways of carrying out education for sustainable development. In addition to all of that, it was a vibrant community with well-established cultural traditions and a sense of hospitality. It has expressed this through embracing the slow food movement.

Today, the images we see of the Kesennuma area are quite different. They show the havoc of a moment that washed buildings into the sea and ignited them into mounds of flaming wreckage. Yet news reports also captured the image of an old man in the region who was trapped on the second floor of his house for three days. When he came down with the rescuers, news reporters asked how he was. He told them he was fine - he had once before survived the loss of everything, in the disastrous tsunami of 1960. He cheerfully added, “Let’s rebuild!” His spirit is shared by Kesennuma-jin.
Still this idea of rebuilding Kesennuma as a community raises the inevitable question: What do we mean when we say we are rebuilding a community?
A. C. Doxiadis, the Greek Minister of Reconstruction after World War II, described the challenge in terms of what he called a community’s five basic elements. These are: nature, its total natural environment; the person, each individual member; society, the groups that people form; shells, the physical structures that people live in and use to support their lives; and networks, the physical and social systems people use for communications and transportation to connect their lives in the community. Doxiadis said that a living community synthesizes all of these elements into something that becomes a unifying transcendent element of its identity as a community – a thing we can think of as its spirit.
When we look at the damage throughout Kesennuma, it looks like the community has been destroyed. It has lost many of its members and many surviving individuals are experiencing extremely hard conditions, sorrow and suffering. The worst damage is to its shells and to its networks. Yet, despite this, each individual resident still remains a Kesennuma-jin. All of them together are still the society of Kesennuma. They are in shelters in various places, but they are still together, and the land and the sea are still there for them. In order to restore their community to health, the Kesennuma-jin will have to build new shells and physical networks to support their lives. It will be a challenge, but it is a challenge that they will be able to rise to if their friends reach out to help them. What makes this possible is that the Kesennuma-jin believe their home town is a special place with its own dreams of what the future can be and its spirit still lives. I would like you and others to share in those dreams and help the Kesennuma-jin and others throughout the region realize their dreams and potentials.


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