It’s just before lunchtime at “Kouzan,” the Peace Boat Disaster Volunteer Center headquarters. The volunteers in charge of meal preparation are loading the car as always.
Today’s menu, however, is a bit different to usual. This report is about the current situation of meal preparation activities, as the earlier emergency stage and lack of materials is changing.
The meal delivery van is headed for Hirobuchi Elementary School in Ishinomaki. Many of the residents have moved into temporary housing, but this elementary school is still home to more than 20 people.
After arriving, the volunteers meet with the people who live at and operate the evacuation center. They arrange to use an area of the sports field and start preparations.
The volunteers are carrying cut-up vegetables and meat.
A barbecue is on the menu for today – actually a new style of meal preparation. Up until now, ready-made meals were handed out to residents. This new style is where volunteers take the ingredients and equipment necessary to cook on the spot, together with residents. As the needs in the area are changing, the idea emerged that residents could regain some independence by creating an environment where they can cook what they want to eat themselves.
This doesn’t mean just suddenly showing up with a box of ingredients and expecting the residents to cook for themselves. Volunteers make sure there is the right nutritional balance and then deliver the pre-prepared ingredients and cooking equipment.
As the charcoal is lit and preparations commence, one of the residents comes to see what is going on.
Other residents are drawn outside by the smell and smoke from the charcoal and they all gather round.
Before we know it, the barbecue party has begun.
“It’s not ready yet. Please wait a bit longer…” “Save that sausage for me,” and similar such conversations can be heard.
There are lots of vegetables which are often lacking in the lunch boxes that are handed out. The large amount of food disappears by the minute.
The grill quickly empties no matter how much food is cooked. Don’t eat too much everyone!
Volunteers cooking together with local residents.
The volunteers cannot resolve all of the problems faced by residents who have been living in evacuation centers for months. However, the distance between volunteers and residents is lessened through having casual conversations during situations such as this.
This style of meal preparation was implemented after consulting with the people at the evacuation center. It’s important to gather information about the number of people, the living environment, and whether or not there is cooking equipment that can be used. This new method is being used in 10 areas at the moment.
It’s a matter of trial and error for the volunteers as well. We are very grateful to the people at the evacuation centers who welcome the volunteers warmly.
We hope that this kind of improvisation in regular meal preparation and other volunteer activities will provide opportunities for new relationships to form amongst local residents.
All photos by Kataoka Kazushi.