On June 12 (Sun), just over three months since the earthquake and tsunami, Peace Boat held an event in Tokyo to reflect upon the relief activities of the past three months and consider next steps. This report tells of the efforts of volunteers, including international and corporate volunteers, in Peace Boat’s efforts to support emergency relief and the recovery of Ishinomaki.
Peace Boat volunteers are supporting the baths launched by NGO JIM-NET for evacuees and survivors, known as the “1000 Person Bath Project.”
“People were so happy when we first opened the bath. For the majority of them, it was their first chance to bathe since the day of the earthquake. While some young people had been able to make their way to the Self Defence Force baths or to relatives’ houses further away, it was much more difficult for elderly people. Many people told us that they were finally able to warm themselves, relax, and sleep well.”
“Noone is coming up here just for fun or to look around. You can tell that by their faces. Everyone has an expression of wanting to do anything that might be useful. We are so grateful for that. So, that is why I actively talk to the volunteers, hoping to make them certain that they are glad they came. From then, everyone calls out to me, waving and calling me Ban-chan! They ask me, “Ban-chan tell us your story.”” Mr Bandai hopes for volunteers to see as much of the damage as possible, so that he can convey to them the true, terrible power of the tsunami. At every such opportunity, he shares with the volunteers the story of his own experience of the disaster.
Peace Boat’s activities in Ishinomaki are being supported by many volunteers, including those who travel from throughout Japan and overseas to support the relief efforts. However, many members of the local community – themselves deeply affected by the earthquake and tsunami – are also joining Peace Boat’s activities. One such person is Bandai Yoshinobu, a driver who has been contributing immensely to recovery efforts in Ishinomaki by transporting many volunteers by bus to their mud-clearing work sites, or transporting mud and debris by truck.
In Ishinomaki, if provision of meals through NGOs and other citizens’ groups was to cease, many people would still not have access to any food other than rice balls and bread provided through donations. Considering this situation, Peace Boat decided to open a Central Kitchen in order to increase the number of meals that can be provided, improving efficiency, safety and hygiene.
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The Moriya Fruit and Vegetable Store was the first of the shops in Ishinomaki to reopen on the central street of Ishinomaki, on April 13 – just over one month after the disaster. Of course the situation is still extremely difficult, yet the existence of such stores continuing to open and provide a service to the local community is giving an important hope for recovery. Peace Boat will continue to assist with clearup and recovery efforts in order to support the activities of shops such as the Moriya Fruit and Vegetable Store.
“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.
Volunteer Shibata Ayako lost much of her family in the tsunami. “To understand what the survivors are having to go through. As a volunteer you are in a certain position that is ‘apart’ from the survivors…I feel it is important to bridge this gap.”
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.”