Team from Malaysia hard at work!
A volunteer team from the Malaysian Association of Youth Club (MAYC) spent five days in Ishinomaki between 18-22 October, working together with the local community to help support the recovery of the local fishing industry.
To date, international volunteers from 49 countries have worked together with Peace Boat.
After the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1995, many issues to do with lack of information for non-Japanese residents, stereotypes and so on came to the fore, showing problems with Japan’s progress towards diversity and internationalisation process. There are several NGOs active in the Tohoku region of Japan now, providing services and specialised relief for the non-Japanese community. The role of international volunteers – both those who are living in Japan and those who travel from far away to support – is vital. Having worked on disaster relief in Kobe and also internationally, Peace Boat is particularly glad to be able to support the involvement of many international volunteers.
The 20 members of the Malaysian Association of Youth Club were in their 20s-40s, and came all the way from Malaysia to contribute to supporting Japan. Having experience in disaster relief activities in their own country, they were able to play a large role in the activities.
The group arrived at Kaska Fashion (the volunteers accommodation) early in the morning.
Although they must have been exhausted after a long flight, immigration procedures, bus travel and so on, this was not visible at all and the group had a great vitality and energy.
After preparing for the day’s work, the Malaysian group and the short-term volunteers enjoyed taking a group photo.
In the mornings they participated in the exercises – enjoying learning the Japanese style “radio taisou.”
On this day, the Malaysian group travelled to the Ogihama area around one hour from central Ishinomaki. This is well known as one of the places in Tohoku where oysters are harvested. The village suffered devastating damage from the tsunami, and the majority of residents are now living in temporary housing. Peace Boat has been supporting clean up activities, local festivals and more in this area. At the moment, the volunteers’ efforts here are focused on supporting the local fishing industry, particularly the cultivation of oysters and wakame seaweed.
The port of Ogihama suffered extensive damage, including the loss of ships and equipment, and a decline in the land level.
The volunteers today assisted with preparations for the oyster cultivation, working scallop shells into the sections of rope.
Piles of scallop shells.
At first the group mimicked the actions of the local fishermen, but soon became used to the work and sped up greatly.
Of course the local residents and short-term volunteers were also working together.
For religious reasons, many of the group are not able to eat pork. As much Japanese food contains pork or extracts thereof, the members brought some of their own snacks and food as well.
This is the results of the day’s hard work – with other boats also similarly filled!
At the end of the day the group took another photo together, showing smiles of being glad to have contributed a day’s work.
Speaking with the local fishermen, they said that “things really progressed a long way today. But more than anything, it was a lot of fun! I wish they could come back again every day!”
The members of the group not only worked hard, but also made efforts to learn words in Japanese from the fishermen, and created a great mood for the whole team.
At the end of the day, the group had a meeting at their accommodation facilities, Kaska Fashion.
The bilingual volunteer leaders with them also played a huge role.
The Malaysian members spent their other days also supporting fishery efforts at Ogihama and other ports. On some days this was very hard work, or they even worked on boats at sea. Thanks to their bright personalities they also became very popular with the other Japanese volunteers, who were doing their best to learn greetings in Malaysian language also!
The five days passed very quickly, and it was time to say goodbye. Volunteers who had been working together with the Malaysian team came to see them off, and the group then set off back to their home country while waving and singing. Peace Boat would like to thank them once again for not only their hard work but also their great spirits, which surely brought a lot of new energy to Ishinomaki!
Peace Boat is supporting the recovery of the fishing industry not only in the port of Ogihama but also other ports in the area. After the disaster, as many fishermen lost their homes, equipment and more, they were not able to fish. There are many who were also forced to give up totally, having lost their ships. Following this there was also the damage caused by the subsequent typhoons. Thanks to the dedication and strength of the local community, and the contribution made by cleaning and fishing support volunteers, little by little they have been able to return to fishing.
The main industry in Ogihama is oyster cultivation, and as this was totally washed away by the tsunami many fishermen lost their income completely. It takes 2-3 years to grow oysters, and for this reason it was decided to also begin to simultaneously cultivate wakame seaweed, which can be harvested in just around half a year.
“Once the port starts to function again, we believe that some people who had given up on their hometown will start to come back again as well,” says one of the local fishermen.
After the summer holidays finished, the number of volunteers has been decreasing. Of course the long-term goal is for the local community to once again be self-sufficient, and not have to rely on the support of volunteers. However, there are still many ways in which the volunteers are needed.
As it gets colder from here on, it is easy to become more melancholy. The support of people from far away will be a great encouragement and support to the people of Ishinomaki.
Please consider joining the volunteer efforts in Ishinomaki!
All photos by Nakamura Mitsutoshi