International Cooperation – volunteer team from Sri Lanka
Volunteers taking part in relief efforts with Peace Boat include many international volunteers, including both foreign residents in Japan and people coming from abroad to take part. A delegation from Sri Lanka is now on the ground in Ishinomaki symbolising this international cooperation. In 2004, Sri Lanka experienced an enormous tsunami, which caused immense damage to the country. All fifteen members of the group were involved in the relief efforts following the disaster which hit their own country. According to a member of the Sri Lankan group, “the damage from the tsunami is the same. We have experienced the same tragedy, so we understand the distress and the needs of the survivors.”
The delegation arrived in Japan having been dispatched as civilian volunteers by the Sri Lankan government. All from different regions of the country, they are experts in various fields such as heavy machinery, communications, electronics, as well as chefs and guitar and drum players. This combination of skills allows the team to handle and support any situation on ground. Two volunteer interpreters and a representative of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also assisting the team.
On this day, the Sri Lankan group were working to support the Omori family’s home in Ishinomaki-Nakaura-Ichome. Shortly after the earthquake, Mr Omori rushed to a facility where his family awaited him, yet upon later returning home found out that the first floor of their house had been completely flooded, leaving masses of debris and sludge behind.
Mr Omori requested support to remove the debris from his home, however it was in such a severe condition that it was not possible to send inexperienced volunteers to clean his property. However, given their prior training and experience in disaster hit areas, the stalwart Sri Lankan group were able to remove the debris from Mr Omori’s house.
Before beginning the difficult job, the national flag of Sri Lanka and Japan were placed together to signify the cooperative work ahead. In the back of the house – after getting through all of the rubble in the front of the house – a warehouse that had been washed in from their neighbours’ yard was fallen. The volunteer team worked to carry the endless rubble out with wheelbarrows, then began the actual removal of debris. The work was precise, piling rubble on top of a carpet that had washed up into the area to be taken out to the areas where rubble was being collected.
Upon finally reaching the warehouse, they found drawers, washers and sludge mixed with housewares, which were weighing down the warehouse. With everyone’s cooperation, the team was able to remove the warehouse after 7 hours’ hard work.
Mr Omori, who manages a construction company, said that “I have been concentrating on assisting other houses which were affected. If we leave the houses covered in sludge, they will rot. I thought we would have to give up on our house as well, but to see it cleaned up, I feel like I can actually start over.”
The Sri Lankan team travelled to Japan with the support of the Embassy in Tokyo. Earlier during the week, the Sri Lankan Embassy also organised a concert of Sri Lankan music at an evacuation center inside a local elementary school. At that time the ambassador stated, “I remembered that the Japanese medical team was the first to arrive at the scene of the the Asian tsunami. I wished to return the courtesy.” The Sri Lankan group are now continuing their aid efforts in Ishinomaki, and the people of Japan are sure to remember Sri Lanka as a country who supported Japan with much strength and dedication.