People | 20 QUESTIONS

Angela Ortiz: 'I'd like to see Tohoku contributing to Japan and the world'

Staff Writer

Name: Angela M. Ortiz
Age: 32
Nationality: American
Occupation: Representative director OGA for Aid, an NGO active in the reconstruction of Tohoku
Likes: Dancing, reading, sports, travel
Dislikes: Small spaces, waiting in lines


1. What first brought you to Japan? My family moved here for work when I was a child, around the age of 5.

2. What’s keeping you here? My current work, my daughter and my family.

3. When you think of Japan you think of … Tokyo Tower! Also, safe, clean streets and punctual public transport.

4. Where do you go to escape Tokyo? I go hiking or spend a day at Tokyo’s LaQua spa. Saunas and hot springs are the ultimate way to relax and destress.

5. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? Naruhodo ne.” It’s more useful than its English translation, “I see.”

6. What’s your favorite phrase in any language? “If not us then who? If not now then when?” — John E. Lewis. It is saying: Take responsibility for what you want to see and do in the world around you.

7. What’s the most exciting/outrageous thing you have ever done? I randomly bet $10 on a horse when I was 19 years old. This horse had the worst odds but it won in the end and I received almost $5,000 in cash.

8. What song best describes your work ethic? One that will always give me goose bumps is Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.”

9. You co-founded OGA for Aid following the March 2011 disasters in Tohoku. Briefly describe its objectives. OGA for Aid was initially founded to provide emergency relief aid to survivors. Discovering huge levels of inefficiency and chaos surrounding the recovery efforts, it established itself further to connect the immediate relief aid phase to the long-term community rebuilding years.

10. OGA for Aid has launched several humanitarian projects in Tohoku to achieve these objectives. Which project are you most proud of? The Green Farmers Miyagi (formerly Green Farmer Association), a project to help farmers reclaim land and receive equipment, supplies and warehouses. It is now a farming company and the largest producer of green onions in the region. I’m particularly proud because most people told us it was impossible.

11. What is the most difficult part of your work in Tohoku? It’s incredibly frustrating to see a lot of waste and inefficiency. It is difficult to stay inspired about fundraising when interest wanes and even survivors/volunteers lose motivation.

12. What is the most rewarding part of your work in Tohoku? The sense of accomplishment when a completed project has managed to solve problems and change lives. It’s also important to enjoy the small successes along the way.

13. You just completed a 500-km cycling trek with the Knights in White Lycra from Tokyo to Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture. How did you train for this? The weekend training cycle rides led by John Stanton were invaluable. They allowed me to get miles under my belt and strengthen particular muscles I needed for the long ride north.

14. Any memorable moments from the trip? In Fukushima, I learned to ride at 25-30 kph with no hands — exhilarating!

15. Where did the team’s name — Knights in White Lycra — come from? Two Brits, John and Nigel, had one too many beers and a karaoke evening while scouting out the route north in 2014. They sang “Nights in White Satin” and the rest, as they say, is history.

16. What attributes are important for anyone who would like to volunteer in Tohoku? One should be tough (the living conditions are hard), persistent (it takes slow, steady progress to make change) and remain positive at all times.

17. Where do you hope to see communities in the Tohoku region in 10 years time? I’d like to see the next generation of Tohoku not just surviving, but contributing to Japan and the world. There are monumental opportunities for learning in Tohoku, from disaster response and volunteer management to tourism and community revitalization.

18. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? We have had some volunteers who specifically asked to speak to survivors who have lost family in the tsunami. When you coordinate projects and work for a town that has lost 20 percent of its population, it’s common sense that everyone has lost family and loved ones.

19. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? I’d go for the underdog and say the tiger.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Focus on self awareness, invest in experiences that allow you to discover who you are and what you like to do. Don’t berate yourself for shortcomings — they play an important role in who you are.

The Knights in White Lycra charity ride from Tokyo to Minamisanriku successfully raised ¥5.8 million for OGA for Aid’s 2015 project, “Place to Grow.” Learn more at www.kiwl.net and www.ogaforaid.org.

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