Interview with Relief Project Coordinator – “Two Months Later”
Peace Boat staff member Ueshima Yasuhiro (29) has been acting as coordinator for the approximately 2000 volunteers that Peace Bot has dispatched to Ishinomaki over these past two months. He’s been stationed in Ishinomaki since just after the quake and has stayed put for the duration. How have the last 2 months been through his eyes? How will the needs and requirements of the volunteers change over the coming weeks and months?
“Since the ‘Golden Week’ public holidays in early May we are suffering from a dearth of volunteers. We are looking for more and more volunteers, even for a short period.”
These were the first words out of his mouth as we started the interview. He could not stress enough the continuing need for volunteers.
Yasuhiro first arrived at Ishinomaki on the night of March 17.
Driving into the city in a van loaded with fresh water and blankets donated via Peace Boat, he and his team mates set about distributing these items with the help of the local Volunteer Center. However, the Social Welfare Council which coordinates this center was effectively non-operational. Their building was heavily damaged and the majority of staff still missing or unaccounted for in the pandemonium ensuing the quake and tsunami.
“The sludge-ridden building of the Social Welfare Council was being used as an evacuation center. The office spaces were full of people seeking shelter. It was hellish… They informed us that they do have a storage space for safe-keeping, so we made our way there. It was already relatively well-stocked but nothing was being distributed. There was no distribution infrastructure or operation in place. The relief goods were not being moved. They weren’t getting to the needy. This was the start of our relationship with the Council. They have the knowledge of local needs and we have the human resources. We made our way around the evacuation centers and distributed as many items as we could.”
“Just following the earthquake, there was no radio or mobile phone coverage, telephone landlines were down, there was no fuel, and over half the roads were impenetrable due to the debris. It was impossible to gauge how many people were located in which evacuation centers…”
Yasuhiro was also a coordinator of Peace Boat relief efforts during the 2007 Niigata Earthquake. However, nothing could prepare him for the level of destruction here at Ishinomaki. His first few days were spent getting to know the area and its particular needs whilst distributing as many relief goods as possible.
Over the weeks, the apparatus by which to assign the many incoming volunteers and to help them work with maximum effectiveness has been designed. Yasuhiro remembers how pleased the senior staff members of the Social Welfare Council were when Peace Boat announced its intention to continue relief efforts in Ishinomaki over the long term.
With the help of city administration, The Ishinomaki Senshu University Campus was assigned as a base of operations for the numerous NGOs and relief organizations in the area. Over the course of days it was decided that the indoor baseball training grounds would be used as a storage space, a weekly dispatch of volunteers from Tokyo will come etc.. etc.. Thus, an effective system was quickly developed.
It is thanks to this system that we are able to take increasing numbers of volunteers to Ishinomaki who make the sludge removal, distribution of hot meals and relief goods a reality.
“It was freezing up here in March. Many evacuation centers were without any food or heating. Therefore our daily goal then was mere survival of all. The arrival of large groups of volunteers has opened up so many avenues toward recovery. Peace Boat plays no small part in this. We contribute the largest groups of volunteers, and that is where our strength lies.”
Interview to be continued on next update…