Peace Boat will hold an event in Tokyo on June 12 (Sunday) to report on its activities in Ishinomaki in the three months following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11.
“I really wanted to protect even just this one tree,” said Ms Abe Mayumi, of Niidate in Ishinomaki City. Nine cars were piled up in the large persimmon tree during the tsunami, however because of this tree her house was not swept away, and there was minimal damage to the walls. It was as if the tree protected the Abe’s house and family.
Two months have passed since Peace Boat began actively engaging in the relief effort in Ishinomaki. This series of photos represents the city at its current state. It has taken two months for the mud mud and debris including household goods to be cleared from the shopping area in front of the train station, and shops have slowly begun to open their doors for business in the area, yet full recovery is still a long way away.
“Every little bit helps. All you need is empathy, to put yourself in the shoes of the survivors,” states Peace Boat staff member Ueshima Yasuhiro. “The area of Chuo-cho, where we first started the clean-up operation, is looking remarkably better now… It is a symbol of what can be achieved through cooperation between the local populace and volunteers. We’ve seen shop owners ready to throw in the towel, believing that there was no future, regain their fighting spirit and open up shop again. Alone, people may become despondent….but bring forces together, and people gain courage. I strongly believe this to be true.”
“They are still so many houses and buildings that need to be cleaned out. The road ahead is long and no where near finished.”
A delegation from Sri Lanka is now on the ground in Ishinomaki symbolising the importance of 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 one of them, “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.”
Mr Ito started his volunteer stint on April 23, initially with sludge removal. He says he was a complete loss of words at the devastation. The area he once knew was completely unrecognizable.
However, seeing the local people starting up their businesses again and picking up the pieces after the tragedy gave him an immense sense of hope.
Peace Boat staff member Ueshima Yasuhiro (29) has been acting as coordinator for the approximately 2000 volunteers that Peace Bot has dispatched to Ishinomaki over these past two months. He’s been stationed in Ishinomaki since just after the quake and has stayed put for the duration. How have the last 2 months been through his eyes? How will the needs and requirements of the volunteers change over the coming weeks and months?
“I was one of the lucky ones to have not been killed. I owe a lot, and I cannot ever take my life for granted now,” restaurant owner Sakuma Ikuko says.
“I really appreciate the work being carried out by Peace Boat, and I want them to know that. So that’s why we are letting the volunteers stay in our main dining hall. I have nightmares about the tsunami every night. I get swallowed up by the waves and the moment that I think I’m going to die, I wake up. When I do wake up, all I see out of the window are the endless mountains of debris. A darkness was beginning to consume me and I didn’t think I could make it through… but then, I saw the young Peace Boat volunteers, with their boundless energy, partaking in sludge and debris removal. They gave me courage and the drive not to give up. That is what Peace Boat gave me.”
Torii Kenta joined the Peace Boat group dispatched to Ishinomaki on April 8. He initially stayed for 3 weeks and found that the area around Ishinomaki train station showed a marked improvement over that time. His faith in volunteerism and the relevance of working there was reaffirmed. He deduces that the factors contributing to this are the increasing number of volunteers and also the fact that many volunteers are staying for longer periods and gaining mastery over the content of their tasks. The whole effort is speeding up and increasing in scope. “I thought the power of human strength is not be laughed at,” he says optimistically.
One month after the earthquake and tsunami hit, Peace Boat launched a programme together with four other organisations as the local needs moved from emergency relief to support for recovery of the city of Ishinomaki. Together with the local Social Welfare Council, ap bank, and Megumi Japan, the “Smile Project” was launched. Since its beginnings one and a half months ago, mud and debris have been cleaned from more than 200 individually owned residences and businesses.