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Northern Kyushu Flooding Relief Activity – Interview Report

Peace Boat provided relief activity for the flooding in northern Kyushu between 15 July – 10 August 2012, in Taketa City, Oita Prefecture. 41 volunteers (with a total of 212 volunteer working days), together with many individual volunteers, visited the local disaster volunteer center run by the Social Welfare Council (hereafter referred to as “SWC”) scooped mud out of the houses and facilities, as well as cleaned the roads and street drains.

Upon completion of the volunteer activities, Peace Boat staff member Suzuki Shoichi who was in charge of the local coordination interviewed Mr Mizuno Masaya, the head of Kujyu branch of the SWC.

Mr Mizuno from the SWC (left) and Suzuki Shoichi, Peace Boat Local Volunteer Coordinator

Suzuki: In Taketa City, you have stopped accepting individual volunteers at the disaster volunteer center. Now that the emergency support has come to an end and I imagine are about to step into the next recovery phase which will be time consuming, please tell us how you feel at the moment.

Mizuno: For us, the Taketa City office of SWC, it was our first time coordinating voluntary offers from organizations outside the region. Although to be honest we had difficulties, thanks to various people from all over the country, we witnessed the power of people encouraging the local community that they can do it. We truly appreciated the significance of support from others.

Suzuki: I heard that you also have disaster relief experience in Niigata and Fukushima. Please tell me more about it.

Mizuno: I went to the local volunteer/disaster offices in those areas through Support P (Disaster Volunteer Activity Support Project Association) as a volunteer coordinator and as a management supporter. During the period of my activities, since I was foreign to the area, my highest concern was to preserve the local culture just as was.
During my volunteer service back then, it was hard for me to feel a sense of accomplishment even when people thanked me: I often questioned whether I was really doing my job right, or if I could have done better. This time, however, my situation has shifted 180 degrees from a support provider to a support recipient. Now I have gained the new insight that any amount of support, or even the fact that someone is there for/with us, gives such encouragement. I was simply so happy.

Suzuki: In my understanding, the key player for this revival/reconstruction is the local residents; hence the majority of volunteer participants are from the local area. Nonetheless, you also opened the door for other volunteers like us participating from outside the region. And the way you handled unexpected arrangements (i.e. finding our place to sleep) was quite flexible. Could you tell us how you managed?

Mizuno: Thanks to Support P members and other familiar faces, we could make preparations to accept external resources very smoothly. Towards the point when our plan became concrete, the Peace Boat team arrived. Thanks to your thorough consultation, we had no worries for moving forward.

Mizuno: It would be untrue if I said everything went smoothly here at this disaster site. However, some of the expected systems worked together well so that we could mitigate the friction.

The disaster volunteer center, run by SWC Taketa City, which took charge of coordinating individual volunteers

Suzuki: Along the way, more and more individuals started to join us: on one weekend we had over a hundred people.

Mizuno: Since the Peace Boat team was formed with experienced members, we proposed for them to lead individual volunteers participating for the first time, sharing the mutual understanding of the needs and progress of volunteering.
In reality, our plate was full and we could not fully supervise the local risk management. Particularly since the tasks were conducted while dealing with the heat, it was of great help that Peace Boat took charge of the activities while taking into consideration the participants’ safety.

Suzuki: The emergency support in the early stage of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami last year was exposed to many dangerous sites. Learning from the experience, we pay extra attention when we conduct volunteer activities by sending a safety officer prior to taking any actions, and providing a safety check manual to our volunteers.

At times, our volunteer work takes place at sites around partially-destructed houses. The specialists' risk judgment can sometimes take time, and thus Peace Boat also delegates well-trained leaders in charge of the disaster site to conduct safety management

Having said that though, we discovered lots of insightful challenges this time. One was that we should have picked our activity sites much earlier, even though the damage was in a wider area. Furthermore, our initial procurement and staff resources were sent from distant locations such as Tokyo and Ishinomaki, causing extra lead time.

Natural disasters could happen at anytime and anywhere, so we would like to make certain as to how we could address the emergency support in wider areas in a prompt and proactive manner.

Mizuno: I have also served in such roles with the disaster volunteer organizations JNCSW and Support P, and my missions have been “how to involve others’ help and work as a team” and “how we could be united with others”.
I strongly hope that the saying, “the trust relationship that is once tightened will remain strong” applies to our relationship with Peace Boat in a face-to-face context, and our cooperation will help one another.

Suzuki: Definitely we will. I truly appreciate your time for this interview today – thank you again.

*We received a total of JPY 999,825 in donations for emergency support for the Northern Kyushu Flooding Relief Activity. This generous support is what made such relief activities possible – thank you to all those who were involved.

Sunset in Taketa city

Photo: Suzuki Shoichi