Aug 2012


Ishinomaki Tea party!

Peace Boat has been providing support to residents of temporary housing including publishing a community paper, cultivating vegetable gardens, making benches and planters, and more. Communicating with the residents is one of the most important things in understanding the needs for such projects. This is a report on “Ocha-kko (tea parties)” which we have been organizing as a space for communication, more than 600 times throughout the different communities of temporary housing in the city of Ishinomaki.

The volunteer teams were comprised of week long volunteers, long-term volunteers and staff members. Our morning starts with a team meeting. There, basic information about the community to visit is shared, including the number of residents, presence (or absence) of a residents’ association, other volunteer organizations involved with the community, the number of participants and what took place in past Ocha-kko events.

Communities in temporary housing vary greatly depending on the individual situation. Within the city of Ishinomaki alone there are 134 such communities. Not only the number of households in the community or shops, hospitals, and schools in the vicinity varies, but also cohesiveness of the communities varies due to the differences in their background and creation.

Ocha-kko is a kind of activity which requires communication more than anything. Participating volunteers often say, “since I don’t have a direct experience of the disaster, I don’t know what to talk with the residents. I feel nervous.” This is the reason why, in the morning meeting, we strive to help volunteers realize that “every community has different situation, and every resident has a different opinion.”

Preparation starts as soon as we arrive at a community.

Everyone is unique” – everyone has different tastes for drinks and foods of course also. So, Peace Boat also offers a variety of drinks including tea, green tea, coffee, cafe au lait, and so forth.

It is also very common to have pickles and salad along with sweets at tea parties around the area.

Now, it is time for Ocha-kko!

Another important thing for facilitating communication is to actually work physically with your hands or using your entire body. It would be difficult to strike up a conversation without something to talk about, even if you are told; “please, talk freely.”

Origami, paper clay, physical exercise, and story telling, each of these things are prepared at tea parties to help volunteers relax and get to know the residents.

At this Ocha-kko, we made cookies together. Even residents who at first said, “we will eat them when they are ready,” joined and enjoyed making cookies together once started.

Now, the community paper “Kizuna,” published biweekly by volunteers, is also now distributed not by volunteers but by the residents themselves – including distribution through the Ocha-kko party. Another purpose of these events is to learn what kind of information and thus articles is needed.

The number of communities where the paper “Kizuna” is published had increased to 90 communities with more than 5,000 papers published.

Not everyone participates in the Ocha-kko party, and the numbers vary greatly depending on the community. In some cases, people cannot attend because of school or work. Yet, there are also people with more complicated reasons for not attending. Peace Boat makes efforts to encourage people to attend the party, however of course this is not the right thing for all. Morning meetings and feedback sessions afterwards help the volunteers to see the importance of having personal communication with residents, such as adding a short message in the margins of the community paper or engaging in short,  casual conversations.

Even in the case where a lively community has formed in such housing, it is still “temporary.” Many residents hope to be able to return to their own towns in several years. Some organizations will have to leave Ishinomaki for different reasons, even though we have been working together. Contrary to activities like cleaning which have tangible and measurable outcomes, supporting the residents of temporary housing has no obvious visible result, making it more challenging for the volunteers.

Yet each challenge they face in the field makes them understand first hand the difficulties and importance, as well as the necessity to continue the work. Perhaps, this is the reason why many past volunteers who cannot come back to Ishinomaki often send in a lot of gifts and letters.

If such a “happy little surprise”gives great energy to the volunteers, it may also be true that it gives energy to the residents of temporary housing. Although activities go forth through trial and error, Peace Boat is determined to keep working.