My experience in Ishinomaki – Taka Nakahara

Article by Taka NAKAHARA

I visited Ishinomaki as a Peace Boat Volunteer on January 6th till 14th. My experience there was unforgettable, and I really recommend other people to come to Tohoku and volunteer with Peace Boat.

During our stay in Ishinomaki, I volunteered with one American and two British people in support of the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, March 11, 2011. On our way from Kasuka Fashion (former garment factory which was turned into one of Peace Boat volunteer facilities in Ishinomaki thanks to the generosity of the owner) to volunteer sites, we still witnessed severe aftermath of tsunami, even though nearly ten months had passed since March 11.

Peace Boat started its activity soon after the earthquake, and sent its first volunteers from late March 2011, weeks after the earthquake. Our group was Team 3 of the 40th volunteer group, which means Peace Boat had been sending its volunteers for 40 weeks. We worked with about 20 other volunteers, among them University students, veteran volunteers who had participated several times already, and very disciplined Urawa Gakuin baseball boys! (Congratulations for their being qualified for Senbatsu!!!)

Ten months after the earthquake, it seems to me that the need for volunteering has shifted from emergency support to reconstruction support. Request for food delivery and cleaning up activities decreased, but there still exists dire need for activities to support people in Tohoku so that they can re-start their work. Also, many victims of the earthquake are still living in temporary housing units, some of them alone, and under stress. Therefore, mental support for the evacuees should continue. Indeed, need for such volunteer work is perhaps more needed now than immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

During our stay, our team was assigned for three different tasks; crop field making, scalp shell collection, and pendant making (using pieces of Ogatsu stone, which is famous for its hardness). We did our work enthusiastically, but compared to what we have been given from the evacuees, our contribution seems to be very small. During tea break, and lunch time, they offered us so much food and drink that we felt sorry. Also, by talking to them, we learnt a lot. At least, by being there, we could have sent them message of solidarity – in our case, global solidarity – which we hope may cheer them up.

During our de-briefing session, with other volunteers, we discussed what we can potentially do after we leave Ishinomaki. One of Peace Boat’s long term volunteers emphasized that it is very important that we can continue our engagement with Ishinomaki, however that may be, so that our support for Ishinomaki will be sustainable. We came up with five suggestions: “Never forget”, “Buy ‘made in Tohoku’ products”, “Share our experience with our friends, using the internet or other means”, “Send our messages overseas”, and “Come back to Tohoku”. After our de-briefing ended, we took photos while some of us held boards on which we wrote the above five suggestions. I was holding a board which says “Come back to Tohoku”, because I thought this is something I can do for sure. And in order to fulfill the “pledge”, I am expecting to come back again to Ishinomaki in this March!

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