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Tale from a volunteer 5: Two and a half years had passed.

Recently, Jamie and I were fortunate enough to be able to volunteer in Ishinomaki. As we explored the city, the destruction from two years ago was still evident in some places. As we passed by open lots of land full of weeds, our friends from JEN would explain that these used to be neighborhoods until the tsunami swept them away. We could still see debris covering some of these lots with half-demolished houses bordering their outskirts. While a lot of rebuilding has taken place over the last two years and most of the clean-up work is done, it has taken and will take much longer for the psyches of those affected, to heal. One effort JEN has initiated to reclaim the land devastated by the tsunami is to plant flowers and create parks. It is their hope that as the scarred land heals and the flowers bloom, the people can see the beauty around them and begin to heal too. This has not been without difficulty though. The soil has become salty from the sea and special efforts have had to be taken to identify plants and flowers that thrive in salty conditions. However, as evident from the picture below, the flowers have bloomed and the land is beginning to recover and, with time, hopefully, the people will too.

We also traveled to Ajishima ( (6-7 July) to volunteer with JEN. There we met the fishermen and their families who lived there. Ten years ago there were a few thousand people on the island, but due to depopulation and the tsunami, only 400 people now live on the island. After the tsunami, circumstances were difficult. For three months, Ajishima was cut off from the mainland and supplies had to be airlifted in. The power and water lines that ran from the mainland to the island had been destroyed and the dock from which the islanders had fished from in their boats (fishing is the main occupation) had also disappeared under the waves. Furthermore, there was concern that the fish that comprised most of their diet and their trade were no longer edible due to radiation from the Fukishima nuclear disaster.

The villagers in Ajishima don't want to give up though and they have been working over the past two years to rebuild their homes, trade, and harbor. To assist with their efforts, JEN organized a group of volunteers to clean up several of the beaches. Ajihsima used to be known as having the best beaches in northern Japan but after the disaster, most of them have been unusable. We cleaned up the beaches, weeded the grounds, and planted new flowers to encourage more people to visit this beautiful island. The fishermen and ladies from the villages worked alongside us to restore their island and on Saturday night together we cooked a feast for everyone. The meal was almost entirely fish, the fruits of the fishermen's labor. I can honestly say I never knew there were so many sea animals you could eat! I watched the fishermen cut up live octopus, grill sea urchins while their legs were still moving, and scoop meat out of abalone shells and it was some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten! I am so grateful for the residents of Ajishima for letting us into their lives and giving us the opportunity to experience their lifestyle, even if it was only for a weekend.


July 31, 2013 in Volunteer InfomarionTohoku earthquake |