Day 0 and Day 1 in Ishinomaki

A report from volunteer Akira Uchimura, originally published on the Nikkei Youth Network. http://nikkeiyouth.com/2011/03/26/day-0-and-day-1-in-ishinomaki/

After packing everything, I got together with the other 50 volunteers who were preparing all the relief supplies to be taken to Ishinomaki.

I have to confess, I have mixed feelings about going to Ishinomaki as a Volunteer leader. Part of me says “stay home, you have a family, the newspaper says volunteers are not needed yet, maybe Mt. Fuji could erupt, what will you do if that happens and your family is far away from you? Is it responsible for you to go?”.

Another part of me says “follow your heart, if there were no need for volunteers, why would they call you for help? NGOs move faster than governments, and people in the shelters may have food but what about people who are out of the shelters? Why miss this chance to help and the same time learn at first hand how international support is being done in Ishinomaki? Why talk about change when you yourself are not doing it?”. I think my main reason of going to Ishinomaki though is because number one, I would like to support this community with all that I can, and two, because I want to see what is happening with my own eyes, so I can share with all of a your a Nikkei point of view of what is happening.

I kept on thinking about these factors over and over while we packed the hundreds of boxes with the other members.

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A photo in the Peace Boat center where people are getting ready to leave

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We departed from Takadanobaba (Tokyo) at 10:30 with 48 volunteers, which were made of Japanese between the ages of 20 and 35, foreigners, a journalist of Japan Times, and a film crew of a Japanese newschannel called Zero.

It tooks us 8 hours to get to Ishinomaki thanks to the fact that the main Tokaido freeway has been restored, which allowed us to go straight to our destination.

DSCN0172 Every few hours, we would stop for the “toilet break”, and every time we would get out for this break, the scenery outside was colder.

While on the bus, we were explained what could be the difficulties, how to manage your volunteer team, and all sorts of advice to not to offend the people in Ishinomaki. Many who have lost everything, and are tired and stressed after weeks of a lifestyle they had never expected.

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When we arrived at 7am (March 26th), it was already 0 degrees Celsius and you could feel the cold wind hit your body and bones. Crews of cameramen from NHK and regional news media where filming all of us, and asking questions like “why did you decide to come? what’s the purpose of this?”. They asked harsh questions, in a harsh voice, in order to receive strong and maybe confused responses, but everybody seemed to know why they were there. We all started making out tents where we would live for 7 days.

DSC00434That little blue tent is where I am writing this text right now. The green, and yellow tents are where my team is staying.

Then we continued with a group meeting, and received the instructions of the day for each team. My team, “Team Uchimura” were assigned two tasks for the day.

Number one, would be to go the devastated area, where a retiree home was flooded with dark mud, and help clean out all that mud. Then in the afternoon, we would open a free bazaar where local people would come and take things they need for their daily lives (clothing, toiletries, books, food, etc.).

DSC00437 The staff giving the initial instruction to the groups. DSC00440

I was happy to see Nippon Foundation cars in many places, helping out too. :)

On our way to the retiree home, calle “Pika Pika Home” I could see through the car window, what I had only seen on TV. Cars being towed one on top of another, mud everywhere, everything in a total mess…

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It took us a hard time arriving to Pika Pika home, because the closer we would get to the ocean, the mud would get thicker, impeding our van from going through. But we finally arrived, and were astonshied of how a 5 cm to 10cm black mud had covered the whole house’s floor.

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I thought it would takes us a whole day cleaning the 500m2 house, but after working really hard for 3 hours, we managed to take out most of this mud out.

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We said goodbye to the Pika Pika house owner, went back to the camp to eat lunch and get ready for our second task.

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Here are photos of how we were cleaning the mud, and also a poster that was left the day of the earthquake. It seemed as though time has stopped on March 11th.

This was more of a cleaning mission where we would only think about how we could get this mud out, but in the afternoon was when we would really meet the people who suffered from this disaster.

Once we got back to the camp, we ate a quick lunch and went on preparing all the boxes to be used in the free bazaar. According to the reports of the day before on what people were asking for, we would choose what things to take.

This bazaar is aimed to all the people in Ishinomaki who were affected by the disaster but still managed to have a shelter of their own. Peopl in shelters are taken care of, but people who are outside of these shelters have only their home and everything else they have to find for themselves.

DSCN0182 Preparing the boxes to be sent to the bazaars

DSC00463People would be allowed to take 10 things for free

As being have Latino, I could not believe on how polite the people were, picking up things. In Latin America, free giving is not good because it causes fights, disorder, and violence between the people who desperately try to get everything. But here, people politely made lines, chose carefully what they wanted, and some were even shy to ask what they needed so we would scream out what we had in each stand.

This was the task where I learned what people really needed. socks, underwear, diapers, and brooms where among the things that people asked for first. It was nice to see people smiling, as though they would be shopping on a flee market. Ladies, trying out clothing, men giving their children toys to choose from, etc.

The people disappeared right at 4:30pm when the sun started to come down. There’s almost no light in the city so people go back to their houses before it is too dark.

We cleaned what was left and went back to our camp, to report on what we did, and start eating our dinners as well.

Turns out that, 50 plates where left from the day’s lunch for the people, so we got to eat that at night. Normally each one has to make their own food so we don’t cause more food demand on a city that is already in shortage of it. DSCN0190

To my surprise, the chef of the camp is Rio, the husband of our NYN staff Mao! It was interesting to meet him for the first time here in Ishinomaki.

My eyelids are closing so I end my first day’s report here.

Thank you for reading all the way, and see you tomorrow.

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