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.”
Over 180 non-Japanese volunteers, or ‘International Volunteers,’ have joined Peace Boat’s relief activities. As a rural town, Ishinomaki does not see many non-Japanese visitors, so the presence of International Volunteers is a source of fascination and encouragement for the locals. As many helping hands as possible is needed in Ishinomaki, and it is important to include non-Japanese in these efforts – both people resident in Japan and from elsewhere. Domestic news coverage of the destruction is on the wane. The presence of the international community still continues to be needed in Japan so that the devastation may not be forgotten, and efforts to rebuild can be continued together.
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.
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.
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.
In Ishinomaki, the harsh winter is slowly turning into spring. Until now there has often been sudden and heavy snow, rain and wind, flooding the town and toppling the tents in which volunteers are staying. However the weather is becoming warmer, and cherry blossoms have bloomed, marking the beginning of the new year. Many of the schools throughout Ishinomaki which Peace Boat has been supporting are opening for classes, and at the end of April entrance ceremonies were held for the new students.
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.
This is a report by Campe-sino who went to Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture as a volunteer twice, for 8 days from April 15 – 23 and for 9 days from March 21 – 30. We have obtained his permission to reprint. Volunteers in the affected areas will continue to be needed after Golden Week. Please attend an information session if you are interested.
Exactly one month and two days since the earthquake. The Moriya Fruit and Vegetable Store, which has been providing Ishinomaki residents with quality fruit produce for the last 80 years is now open for business again. Located on the high street just by the Ishinomaki City Hall, it is is the first shop to re-open after the disaster.
200 new volunteers arrived in Ishinomaki last weekend. There is still a lot of work to be done.