Today is the fourth day of our field exercise. In the morning, we were privileged to hear from the Minamata Disease Victims’ Mutual Aid Society（水俣病被害者患者互助会）. Their organization gathers Minamata Disease patients in their home-like office three times a week, serving as psychosocial support to the often stigmatized victims. They are currently taking care of 15 patients but they feel that there are more victims out there who could use of their assistance. They are concerned with the patients’ future and how they would be able to do their daily functions as many of them are growing old alone. The organization feels that the disease should be emphasized as a public health issue with it growing into a social issue. Aside from providing healthcare, they also help victims file lawsuits for repeals of denied compensation, which often gets into a vicious cycle because once a case wins, hundreds of people tend to file new claims- most of which gets rejected.
Source: Minamata Unit 2015 team members
In the afternoon, our group got to meet and engage with students from Minamata High School（水俣高等学校). First, they reported about the current environmental activities and projects in their campus, which included festivals and fairs as well as the use of check sheets for eco-points. Next, representative students shared their experience under an exchange program in Idrija, Slovenia- known for its mining of mercury. Aside from having the opportunity of discussing UNEP’s Minamata Convention on Mercury with foreign students, the delegates also got to gather ideas from the town that they want to adopt in Japan such as the installation of trash bins along streets. A group discussion then followed wherein we were equally distributed among the high school students and this gave us a chance to interact with them more closely. We learned from each other with us being impressed that the tedious (24-type waste segregation ごみの24種類分別収集) in their city comes naturally for the high school students since they were born into such culture. On the other hand, they were shocked with the gravity of environmental problems especially from developing countries. All in all, the activity made them more confident and inspired in studying English as well as in their studies so they can be of help to society when they grow up. It was moving to hear that many of them are interested in becoming public officials- a sign that the city government is being perceived as effective. We hope the culture of excellence would be continued in the city so that its citizens especially the victims of Minamata Disease would be uplifted from the stigma and they could proudly say again that they are from Minamata City.
Author: Angeli Guadalupe; Figure by Joanne Khew; Photo taken by Minamata Unit 2015; Contributors: Mahdi Ikhlayel, Heng Yi Teah, Joanne Khew