KESENNUMA, Japan - There's something about his smile and laugh that warms the heart. Perhaps it's because at the age of 75, Kiyoshige Chiba has survived the most difficult year of his life.
"Did you ever think that this is too much -- I've lost my boat. I've lost my livelihood. I'm not making any money?' Did you ever think, 'Wow, this is enough. I can't take it anymore?'" CBN News asked Chiba.
"Yes," he replied. "I felt like giving up."
With the help of CBN's Operation Blessing International, hope has replaced the despair Chiba was facing.
Way of Life Returns
Chiba and ten other fishermen whose way of life were ruined a year ago when disaster struck are back on their feet.
"I was really surprised because I was given something that I wasn't expecting," he said.
***Find out how you can help CBN's Operation Blessing International meet the needs of the Japanese people and others around the world.
Ten new fishing boats were donated by Operation Blessing to an area that saw nearly all its boats destroyed by the tsunami.
"These boats represent two things for the fishermen here. First of all, they are restoring their livelihood which is so important to help these communities get back on their feet," explained David Darg, director of international disaster relief for the charity aid organization.
"And secondly, the boats represent hope - hope for the future," he said.
That hope was robbed from the area one year ago when a massive earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated Japan's northeast coast. Small fishing villages like Kesennuma took the brunt of the devastation.
Kesenumma is historically a fishing community and when the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the shore, it devastated them. Thousands of people lost their boats.
"Our main industry in this town depends on fishing. Before the tsunami, the fishing industry here was flourishing. But in the tsunami most of the boats were lost," Kesennuma City Mayor Shigeru Sugawara said.
A Win-Win Solution
The companies that manufacture boats in Japan have simply been overwhelmed by the demand for new boats. So Operation Blessing International turned to Stacey Raymond, owner and president of General Marine, Inc., a company that builds boats in Biddeford, Maine, to custom design boats for the Japanese fishermen.
"They have a very specific design criteria to their fishing and that required us to actually design these boats from the ground up," Raymond explained.
Operation Blessing has commissioned ten more boats, bringing much needed economic relief for Raymond's business.
"This was an important project for us. It allowed us to feed our people in the states, keep our employees going, and at the same time, help the Japanese out. It was a win-win situation," Raymond said.
On Mar. 11, Raymond joined Operation Blessing International officials and representatives from the software company SAP, which sponsored the first ten boats, in presenting the new vessels to the fishermen.
"Operation Blessing gave us 42 boats last year and now is giving us more boats. This is wonderful news for the fishing industry," Mayor Sugawara said. "They are providing the thing that our people most need right now."
The new boats could not have come at a better time for Chiba. For the last 12 months, he has had no boat and no income.
He told CBN News that he had to dip into his savings to survive.
"With this boat, I'll be able to fish for valuable seafood closer to the shore such as shell fish, oysters, and nice varieties of fish," Chiba said.
Chiba named his boat "Victorious Treasure."
"When I heard that I was going to be receiving a boat, it gave me huge motivation to go back to fishing. It was a huge help, so thank you very much," he said.
Operation Blessing International was on the scene just a few days after the earthquake struck, providing more than 100 tons of emergency supplies to families in need.
One year later, Operation Blessing is still here helping to rebuild.
Darg said that whether its providing prescription eyeglasses to those who lost theirs in the tsunami or whose eyesight has worsened since then, to giving fishermen the tools and equipment to get their businesses back up and running, Operation Blessings is here for the long haul.
"The fact that Operation Blessing is here one year later after the tsunami is testament to our commitment for long term solutions to these disasters here in Japan and around the world," Darg said.
"And so Operation Blessing isn't just a one-hit -- we're in -- we're out," he said. "We are here committed to serving and having an impact in these communities."