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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid