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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Living with Evacuees

Mar. 31, 2017

The government has lifted evacuation orders for parts of restricted areas in Fukushima Prefecture.

Most of the former residents have been living as evacuees in temporary housing. Life is tough, especially for elderly people. Coping with isolation and the prospect of dying with no family members around are serious issues. More than 180 people have died alone.

But the residents of one temporary housing complex in the prefecture are rarely alone. A volunteer group from Fukushima University checks in on them each day to see how they're doing.

"It's great to talk to young people. It feels like talking with my grandchildren. I enjoy it very much," says one of the residents.

Students from the university started the project 2 years ago. They named it "Support by Being There." They often organize activities that allow everyone to get to know each other better. The students live in vacant units in the complex for 4 months at a time. Shiori Sato is one of them.

"The residents have told us how much more cheerful the atmosphere is when we're around. We enjoy living here, doing many things together with the residents," she says.

Shiori has gotten to know the residents' normal routines, so she can sense if something's not right. Living together makes it easier for the student to look after their elderly neighbors. The current 4-month stay for volunteers at the complex is drawing to a close. A new group of students will arrive soon, so a celebration is held.

"The student volunteers were wonderful. Thank you so much," says a resident.

The students have set up a slideshow of photographs showing memories of the time that they spent there. Shiori will graduate in the spring. But her stay here has left her a deep impression.

"I initially thought it was going to be difficult to become part of the community. But since we were living here, it became natural for us to listen to the residents and consider what they really wanted. I think these things are important when providing support," she says.

"Support by Being There" shows that out of loneliness and isolation can come a rewarding sense of community.