From April 23rd until May 10th, I participated the volunteering scheme, and just got back from Ishinomaki City yesterday. I was able to have a very meaningful time there.
Thanks to the house we were staying at Watanoha, the volunteers from all corners of Japan were able to get along smoothly and very well. Communication went well, I believe, with the local residents of the affected area.
I got involved in cleaning two houses of this one family, whose three houses that they own were all submerged in the tsunamis. The owner of the properties were so content that we helped cleaning his houses, that the first house that we cleaned, from the next day he lent it to a friend of his that was falling into depression at an evacuation center nearby. As we were working in his houses, gradually the neighbors started talking to us, and began asking us whether we could help clean their houses too. Many people served us tea, at one point during a break, us volunteers went from houses to houses to receive tea!
One of them cooked us ‘tonjiru’ (pork-based soup) and brought it all the way to our house in Watanoha. It was as if we were receiving soup kitchen, but then I really enjoyed the conversation we had with the local residents during that dinner.
Some told me that they were worried about asking volunteers to help them, or that despite them calling for help nobody came to them. These people were beginning to reveal their inner thoughts with us.
One old lady that I talked a lot with, when I didn’t come around to see her for a few days, came to visit me a little worriedly, saying “I want to ask you for some help, but maybe you’re busy…”. There were many ‘little stories’ of the community, such as the exact borderline of the dumping ground, or individual family’s problems etc. I thought it was important to keep the balance and build a trusting relationship with them.
Because I was luckily able to stay there for a long time, I was able to experience many things. In order for short-term volunteers to come in and work there easily, and for them to be received by the local community smoothly, the trusting relationship we build with the local community is essential. On this point, I thought JEN’s community-based policy was very useful and effective.
JEN staff working on site were all hard workers. I thought Mr Nimura would eventually pass out from exhaustion, but he actually seems tough than he looks!
Soon Golden Week (a week-long holiday at the end of April) will be over, and local needs will alter as time passes, I would really like to do what I can to assist the people there.
I am thinking of joining the volunteering scheme again from May 22nd until 26th.
I will bike all the way up there again!
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