News / USA

Despite Risks, US Woman Teaches Near Japan Nuclear Meltdown

Kate O'Berg in front of one of the schools in Japan where she now teaches.(T.Banse/VOA)Kate O'Berg in front of one of the schools in Japan where she now teaches.(T.Banse/VOA)
x
Kate O'Berg in front of one of the schools in Japan where she now teaches.(T.Banse/VOA)
Kate O'Berg in front of one of the schools in Japan where she now teaches.(T.Banse/VOA)
Tom Banse
Few people would voluntarily move to a place where residents routinely scan their groceries with a Geiger counter and automated radiation monitors stand guard outside parks and schools.  

That place is Minamisoma, Japan, a city 25 kilometers away from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactors which melted down last year.

But for Kate O'Berg, 23-year-old art instructor from Pendleton, Oregon, working in this shaken city has been the realization of a dream. The young American is helping people in her hometown's sister city to rebuild their lives. 
In one district of Minamisoma, which was just recently removed from the nuclear no-go zone, signs of the earthquake and tsunami are still very apparent. (T. Banse/VOA)In one district of Minamisoma, which was just recently removed from the nuclear no-go zone, signs of the earthquake and tsunami are still very apparent. (T. Banse/VOA)
x
In one district of Minamisoma, which was just recently removed from the nuclear no-go zone, signs of the earthquake and tsunami are still very apparent. (T. Banse/VOA)
In one district of Minamisoma, which was just recently removed from the nuclear no-go zone, signs of the earthquake and tsunami are still very apparent. (T. Banse/VOA)

Horses were the original connection that drew Minamisoma and Pendleton together as sister cities: samurai horsemanship in the coastal Japanese town and a famous rodeo - the Pendleton Round-Up - in northeast Oregon.

So when a desperate plea from the mayor of Minamisoma went viral on YouTube after last year's nuclear meltdown, the people of Pendleton heard the message loud and clear. Financial support followed, but it took a while for many volunteers to hazard a trip to this region on the border of the nuclear no-go zone.

O'Berg had been to Minamisoma years before as a high school exchange student.  She went back again briefly last year to help with disaster cleanup. Then, right after Christmas, came a job offer from the city and school system of Minamisoma.

O'Berg had one day to decide if she wanted to leave her post with the Pendleton Center for the Arts and move to the Japanese disaster zone to teach English. She would also be the city's part-time cultural ambassador.  

"I just lit up," O'Berg says. "I said, 'I'll come back. I'll teach here, I'll teach here. I don't have a degree, but I'll do it.'"
Radiation monitors stand outside schools and parks in Fukushima Prefecture. (T. Banse/VOA)Radiation monitors stand outside schools and parks in Fukushima Prefecture. (T. Banse/VOA)
x
Radiation monitors stand outside schools and parks in Fukushima Prefecture. (T. Banse/VOA)
Radiation monitors stand outside schools and parks in Fukushima Prefecture. (T. Banse/VOA)

Growing up downriver from a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear facility, one of America's biggest radioactive waste cleanup projects, taught O'Berg about living with radiation risk and uncertainty.

She brought a hand-held Geiger counter to Japan and uses it to scan her groceries before putting them away in her apartment's tiny kitchen. Knowing the risks, O'Berg still opted to come to Japan.

"There definitely were considerations of my own health," she says. "My viewpoint on it is that a lot of people get cancer and just can't help it. But I'm doing what I want to do and I'm helping other people. People risk their lives all the time to help others."

O’Berg assesses her personal risk as minimal at this point.  On a bike ride, she explains why she's so drawn to rural Japan.

There's traffic out and about, a sign that Minamisoma's population is gradually rebounding. More than 600 people drowned here in the tsunami of March 2011.

Afterwards, the majority of town residents temporarily evacuated to get farther away from the nuclear meltdown at the damaged Fukushima reactors nearby.

Passing the junior high school, O'Berg says half-empty classrooms are beginning to fill back up with students. The topsoil on the playing field was scraped off and replaced with clean dirt. 
Volunteers deliver food and good cheer at a temporary housing complex in Japan. (Kate O'Berg)Volunteers deliver food and good cheer at a temporary housing complex in Japan. (Kate O'Berg)
x
Volunteers deliver food and good cheer at a temporary housing complex in Japan. (Kate O'Berg)
Volunteers deliver food and good cheer at a temporary housing complex in Japan. (Kate O'Berg)

Meanwhile, thousands of local people are still living in crowded emergency housing blocs. O'Berg comes to a stop at a complex that resembles a self-storage facility, but with more windows.

On weekends, she regularly joins volunteers who deliver food and good cheer to these small prefab units.

"It's normally an elderly citizen who can't get to the store," she says. "We share our smiling faces and wheelbarrow the food to their home for them and bring it inside their house. It's definitely a really amazing feeling to help someone like that."

O'Berg is the only Oregonian living full-time in Minamisoma. A handful of other volunteers from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia make periodic visits to lend a hand with food distribution and tsunami cleanup.

"I'm told that I'm such a brave person for coming here," O'Berg says. "But it's something I wanted to do so I don't feel that I am any braver than someone living here."

Soon, the sister city link will go in the other direction. Six middle and high school students from Minamisoma will fly to Pendleton.  Their two-week friendship visit is timed to coincide with the Pendleton Round-Up’s famous rodeo.

You May Like

Photogallery US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Saidi salah from: sidi khaled Algeria
June 19, 2012 2:11 PM
"what brave this girl is!!! and we can say also " what adventurous is this girl" . In otherwords: she is brave if she takes all the precaution, and she is such advanterous idiot if she doesn't do so.


by: Orhan from: Istanbul,Turkey
June 18, 2012 7:51 AM
Thanks to the angels like Kate, the pains of this calamity will certainly ease off. International community should be thankful to those who risk their lives fearlessly in order to tend to people who are solely in need of love and care.


by: Bojangles from: Fall out zone
June 17, 2012 8:35 PM
There are hundreds of teachers in the fall out zone. Residents do not rountinely scan their groceries with a geiger counter and even if they did that would be pretty pointless. Those solar powered radiation monitors that sit outside schools are wasteful government spending. They don't "stand guard", they just measure the radiation in that particular spot. Anyway, good on ya for helping out the evacuees.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid