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.
“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.”
Interview with Relief Project Coordinator – “as long as the needs exist, it is important to ensure enough volunteers”
“For example, it is so important to make sure that the efforts are sustainable – that we can guarantee to provide meals not only today, but also tomorrow. If the number of volunteers decreases, it will be difficult to maintain the activities we are responsible for at the moment, and so we really want to ask volunteers to continue coming to Ishinomaki. Also, those people who have already volunteered once have a good understanding of the situation and the work itself, and so it is a huge help if people can come to volunteer more than once, also.”
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.”
Peace Boat stores all donated relief goods at the indoor baseball training hall on the Ishinomaki Senshu University campus. Relief goods include food, sanitary goods, household items for everyday use as well as equipment required for sludge and debris removal. Volunteers working at the storage area keep tabs on all items incoming and outgoing. They are also responsible for keeping items stored and separated according to category.
“Sometimes you will find letters addressed to the survivors of the quake in boxes of donated relief goods. Whomever sent the items express their solidarity with the survivors…really, it made me well up with tears when I came across that letter.” says a storage area volunteer.
It is now Golden Week, with several public holidays in a row in Japan. Many people are using their vacation time to travel to affected areas and volunteer.
During this time, Peace Boat is coordinating 480 people in Ishinomaki for the week – the most at one time until date. As well as this weekly group, Peace Boat has also organised a shorter programme for 180 volunteers to travel from Tokyo from May 2 and spend three nights / five days volunteering in Ishinomaki. The maximum number of volunteers Peace Boat has coordinated at one time in Ishinomaki has been 380 people. As a result, there will be 660 volunteers working in Miyagi with Peace Boat during Golden Week.