Day 4 in Ishinomaki: Messages for a Lifetime

A report from volunteer Akira Uchimura, originally published on the Nikkei Youth Network. http://nikkeiyouth.com/2011/04/05/day-4-in-ishinomaki-messages-for-a-lifetime/

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8:00am, volunteers doing their morning stretching before starting the day

Look like my team has become the official “Takidashi Team” or cooking team! After our routinely leader meeting(7:45am), followed by the general briefing (8am) and the “jyunbitaisoo” or morning excersize, we started preparing another 850 food servings.

Today’s plan is to make thick starch sauce and vegetables (Ankake in Japanese) to go with the Japanese rice, and to use out all the blueberry that’s left before it gets rotten.

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Chef Yuki on the left, and Keisuke making sure the sauce doesn’t
get stuck to the bottom of the pan.

So, first we cut a box of carrots, a box of horseradish, a box of onions, 18kgs of fried chicken into half, and then Chef Yuki mixed them with a special starch sauce that he made.

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Katchan, Tokuma and I separating the good blueberries from the bad

Once we finished cutting these vegetables, my job was to separate the bad blueberries from the good ones. Many of the bluberries had already a week with transportation and all and it was getting some white fungus, so we had to take out all of that. There were 15 boxes of 4kg each so roughly some 60kgs of Chilean bluberries that had to be separated. It took us a whole day to do this, but while doing it, we were able to also concentrate on the news that was being announced on the radio. What I heard on the radio today deeply touched my heart so let me share with you what happened.

The Minato Preschool Graduation

The night before, one of the leaders gave us the good news that, a preschool called “Minato Shogakko” was going to be able to have their graduation ceremony because our volunteers had cleaned the mud from the school rooms. I gave this information to the team, and the two chefs, Rio and Yuki also decided to make special Banana chocolate crepes and Omuraisu (rice omellets) as a gift to the graduates.

As we sat separating the blueberries we heard an announcement from the radio announcer who said “we are changing our usual program so that we can share with you the graduation ceremony of Minato Shogakko, one of only 4 schools that are able to celebrate the graduation thanks to the effort of the volunteers who took out all the mud from the rooms…”

The announcer had to stop the announcement because it seems she burst into tears and could not speak. We don’t know if she had her son there or not, but her emotional voice rapidly caught with us too, and many of us dropped some tears too.

After a few moments she continued the announcement giving an introduction to every student’s graduation speech and it ended with their main teacher giving them their final sermon.

This is what he said (of what I recall of):

“Dear students, this is the day that you graduate. A special day for you to depart from this preschool and continue your academic lives. In our town, a devastating tsunami has taken many of our loved ones, our houses, and even the messages that we stored in the timecapsule which we were going to open when you are 20 years old. This tsunami has taken all of these things from us, but you still are alive, you have many memories in this school, and I am proud of all of you. You are carved inside my mind. Today I want to pact an agreement with you. Let’s meet here in this school 8 years from now, when you become 20 years old (the adult age in Japan), on March 11th, exactly at 2:46pm (the exact time the earthquake hit Japan). This is my last homework that I give you. Take good care and I will be waiting to see you on this day, and to remember of what has happened, and how you grew after this.”

The teacher burst into tears too, but finally finished his speech that took him all night to write out. Each student was handed their graduation diplomas, which were once lost in the tsunami but retrieved by the Self Defense Forces, and later cleaned. Some of the diplomas still had some smudges, but they preferred to use the original diplomas, as a sign of what has happened, but are still standing strong after it.

Left: students ready to receive their diplomas.
Right: Receiving the diploma from the Dean
Photo Credit: Peace Boat

The ceremony ended with a round of applause from the teachers, parents and volunteers who were there to watch the magical moment. Rio, handed each kid their Banana Chocolate crepe, and you could hear happy voices on the radio too. I am very grateful I could share this special moment with the 33 children that graduated, except for one who is still missing with his mother until today…

Left: The dasies in the classroom. Right: Rio and staff giving the Omuraisu
Credits: Peace Boat

Later I learned that on the window of the classroom, there were many daisies that were put to adorn the room. In the language of flowers “Daisy” means HOPE.

This is a photo taken by the Peace Boat staff too, where the graduates leave the school, and are greeted with many people who heard about them on the radio and had to come to give them a final applause. Phrases like “you are our future”, “you give us hope”, “your smile makes us all stronger” were heard while the smiling children left the building.

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Time flew while we listened to the special program on their graduation, and now to keep on working to make the food for the evacuees.

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I had to keep on preparing the blueberry jam, so I gave my camera to Katchan, one of the volunteers who were in charge of bringing the food to the isolated places in Ishinomaki.

Many people compare the Hanshin Earthquake relief with this c

urrent one, but there is a huge difference. It is the area which disaster has struck, it is kilometers and kilometers of devastated houses where in many places, aide has not reached yet.

On the left, Yosuke from our team is preparing the final apple jam breads as dessert to take on our van.

I leave you with some pictures on their course to the mobile food servings.

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This is how some of the roads look like, still filled with sea water and mud

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This is a photo of how we set up the truck in different spots of the city

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In many parts of the city, people have taken out all the damaged furniture and other things outside, but now the problem is that there is no more space to throw away this garbage. One source has said that the amount of garbage that Ishinomaki has, is 6 times the yearly garbage capacity that the city garbage service has.

Once the team came back from their food servings around Ishinomaki, we started preparing the dinner for the evacuees who were staying near our volunteer center, when we were overwhelmed with a present from the children that are staying nearby.

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Somehow they had heard that one of the cooks (Rio) was leaving tomorrow, so they made this poster for him expressing their gratitude. It says, “thank you for (cooking) everyday”. A neatly made poster with origami figures and stickers that they had collected.

After receiving this poster, Rio broke his promise of not crying until he got back home.

This night, I fell sick, and left 2 hours earlier to my tent, to rest and to try to fix my cold as soon as possible. The last thing you want to do as a volunteer in an emergency zone is to contaminate your colleagues or the evacuees with a cold. My friends gave me ginseng tea, energy pills and took over my job as debriefing the day’s work in the main meeting.

My whole body ached, but all the positive news that I had that day kept my heart warm. Oyasuminasai.

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