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A Voice from the volunteer 1: Sludge Busting with JEN

"A Gaijin Point of View" - By GM (UK resident of Japan)

I worked for JEN in Ishinomaki as a “sludge-buster” on April 26 and 27, just before the Golden Week rush. I approached them because of their reputation as a zero-waste, grassroots organization that—in the words of the old Heineken jingle—“reaches places that other NGOs do not reach.”


I expected to be sleeping in my tent in the grounds of Ishinomaki along with the other volunteers, but a day or two before I arrived, JEN had managed to rent an old house just outside the tsunami zone. As a result, the JEN volunteers were lucky enough to have light, heat and even a functioning toilet. Given the physically demanding nature of the work, it was a blessing to have a place where we could relax and sleep in comfort at the end of the day. (At the campsite, it had been so cold, windy and rainy, that many volunteers had been forced to sleep sitting up in their cars.)


My fellow volunteers were an interesting and diverse bunch. There was an Afghan-born, German-educated semiconductor researcher, resident in Japan since 1991, who had driven up with his son and several of his university classmates; a German-Swiss web designer, who had taken unpaid leave from his job to fly to Japan to help out; and a Hebrew-speaking Japanese photographer who had ridden all the way up from Tokyo on his scramble bike.


People in Ishinomaki who need their houses or land cleared up submit a “needs form” to the volunteer center. The center then matches their needs with the available pool of registered volunteer labor. While I was there our allotted task was to tidy up a field at the furthest reach of the tsunami. It was a hard and time-consuming task. It took about a day to clear up all the big, heavy items of rubbish—doors, windows, beams and so forth.


It then took a further day to clear up the “wara”—the dried grass that covered most of the field. There were tangled clumps under the trees and hedges at the edges of the field. The best way to collect it was to get down on all fours and roll it up like a smelly great carpet. It was hard and dirty work, but we all felt good when the job was done.

It is estimated that the tsunami covered an area of 433,000 square kilometers, so volunteers will be needed to help with the clean up for years to come.

Thanks for your contribution, GM-san.

Share your experience with us.
Send your message to: info@jen-npo.org

For inquiries (in English)

Sludge Removal Volunteer click here

Soup Kitchen Volunteer click here

May 7, 2011 in Volunteer InfomarionTohoku earthquake |