…experience as a volunteer in Japan…

Originally published on School Cones for Japan.

A few days ago, I wrote already about a friend of mine, Stephan, who went together with an organization called Peaceboat to Ishinomaki. He helped to clean up the streets, talked to the kids and supported the locals. He is very much involved in helping the community here and I asked him to write a short article about his view on the things now.

Please read below and share with us your opinion or experience. What do you think about his view? Did you experience something similar or do you have a complete different opinion about the situation?

Now, we ask Stephan to speak up and share his experience:

“After five weeks going to Ishinomaki and coming back, live and work shifts into a blurry zone of meaningless considering the relief effort in need caused by the devastated tsunami from mid march. Speaking with a lot of volunteers, they seem to have difficulties to concentrate in the first week after the returned to their “normal” work. Useless, minor, narrowed down to be back in their offices.
Stephan Schmidt

Volunteer Stephan Schmidt

What we experienced in terms of solidarity and teamwork seems to be unrepeatable in the daily labor. So the all over tone of everybody is. “I wanna go back, I felt so useful in this week, they need more help then my boss.” Are we caught in chains, why is it so easy to evolve mutual international respect and togetherness in a situation where are you sticking to basic of living? Is it maybe the common sense to help those in need with the necessary supplies of food and human motivation saying, you are not alone, we think of you?

This is not an empiric study; I only encounter what I experienced. Though I get in line with these volunteers. At the end of June, I will go again to Ishinomaki and will definitely release my second promise.

Soon after the quake my parents in Germany set up a donation account for my family and friends. The account will be closed at the end of May. My mother called me this week and said that about 3.500, Euros already has been raised. I didn’t expect this. I was amazed. The money will go towards the Minato Elementary School in Ishinomaki to keep up running the daily school duties and may provide pupils with materials. So I will go again to Ishinomaki, I will do the regular volunteer work and visit the Elementary School to supply the donation by myself.

It’s probably trust what makes the difference. There are people in Germany, knowing that I do live in Japan and will find an appropriate occasion to donate the collected money. No question, the bigger organizations like Red Cross as well as Peaceboat do an amazing job and help the people where they can. Though a lot of people who would love to donate searching for a private initiative and somebody they can trust.

Therefore I emphasize everybody who wants to contribute to find a person of trust and then provide donations directly to a local school, private person or cooperate. And build up trust over a longer period then just couple of months.

What is obvious now is that the catastrophe from two months ago is more and more out of the media and only the reactor is worth some news. The amount of volunteers at Peaceboat decreased after the Golden Week. This is a long term project. And it may take two or three times to provide your duty in this exceptional situation.

I was also curious about the Japanese behaviors. Yesterday I witnessed a scene with a French guy who nearly screamed at two Japanese that they shall go to Tohoku and help. The two Japanese bowed fast and whispered “hai hai” as an acknowledgment that they heard what was said without agreeing. Then they said they would love to go but they do not get free from work and if they do on their own, they might lose their job.

So maybe it would be a good thing to doctrine the Japanese people, in an authority society like the Japanese one, from above. Emphasize management’s to form teams for volunteer work and take this as an act of corporate social responsibility. It pushes the morality of employees and gives the company a good reputation. And it might help in an authoritarian society.

The volunteers already went can act as a multiplier, as facilitators and presenters about the experienced work in Tohouku hat everybody who goes is highly appreciated and act in the name of humanity and understanding among nations for Japan. This can be a chance.”

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