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Group awarded Mainichi environment prize for teaching well-digging in Philippines

Local volunteers use the "kazusa-bori" technique to dig a well in the Philippine Province of Batangas in 2005. (Photo courtesy of the Kazusa-bori Society)

The nonprofit group "Kazusa-bori Society" has been chosen for the 7th "Mainichi chikyu mirai sho" (Mainichi future of the Earth award) for its work in digging wells and other activities in Southeast Asia to tackle water storages.

    The prize is awarded to groups or individuals who work to solve problems in the areas of food supplies, water and the environment. The group based in Sodegaura, Chiba Prefecture, got its start in 1981 working mainly in the Philippines, digging a total of 27 wells at elementary and junior high schools and poor villages across the island of Luzon. Without running water, the people there used rainwater collected in buckets and other containers, but the group's activities made it possible for them to access fresh water at any time.

    The "kazusa-bori" method for digging deep wells using manpower alone was developed in the Kimitsu region of Chiba Prefecture during the Meiji period, getting its name from the ancient Kazusa Province that existed there. The role of such a method in Japan has ended, but because the necessary construction materials like wood and bamboo can be easily procured onsite and no electricity is required, the well-digging technique has proven useful in developing countries.

    In the beginning, the society had four well-diggers among its ranks, who would teach the local people the process as they worked. In the 1990s, the organization brought around 10 men from the Philippines between the ages of 10 and 60 to Japan for special skills training. Those original local volunteers now comprise the core leadership for activities in the field.

    Water samples from the wells are collected and taken to Japan, where they undergo quality analysis by a specialist firm. The society visits the wells once a year, taking care to provide support such as replacing worn out parts. In Japan, the group spreads the word about conditions in the communities where the wells have been built through fundraising and panel exhibitions.

    "I'm thankful to those who have supported us all this time," said 70-year-old organization representative Fumiyo Takahashi. "We plan to continue to bring the 'water of life' to the people who need our assistance."

    Along with the main prize, Eri Otsu, 43, representative of the nonprofit group "Heroines of the Country" in Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture, and the group "Sakura Line 311" in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, were chosen for the Kubota Award. Otsu engages in a wide variety of activities such as helping to spread awareness about renewable energy sources and revitalizing farming villages, all while operating her own farm. The nonprofit organization Sakura Line 311 has continued to plant "sakura," or cherry trees, to mark areas that tidal waves in the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake disaster reached in order to prevent the tsunami from being forgotten.

    Finally, the Nagasaki Prefectural Isahaya Agricultural High School food science club received the "Jisedai oen sho" (Next generation support award) for the development of Western sweets made from "kankoro," a preserved food made from drying boiled sweet potatoes, as part of activities to revitalize the region.

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