Sunday, June 12, 2011

YF3 x TDRN Volunteer Week 1

I'm back from week 1 of volunteering!! What an amazing experience!!
I didn't have any internet access there so I couldn't post anything until now but here it is! Read on....


On the way to Miyagiken, Tomeshi

This is our bus that we took from Iidabashi Station in Tokyo. We started our trip around 10:30am and arrived in Tomeshi around 5:00pm.

we were staying in a area called Tomeshi. Out team stayed in a community center that was lent to us by the city of Tome.

Notice the cracks along this building. This is due to the earthquake

most of the buildings here are vacant due to the earthquake damage

Our first dinner was "Aburafu-don" a traditional rice bowl dish.

At our first meeting. The 9th group was giving each of us an orientation of what they did that week. In total there are 4 groups that work during the week: the meal team, middle school team, highschool team, and omoidesagashitai team. I was put into the meal team so my group made breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for 7 days. There are about 20 or so members in Tokyo Disaster Relief Network and my group was in charge of making breakfast and dinner for them. Lunch was made daily for people in the shelters. Every day we went to different shelters to make lunch for them. Most of the people who live in shelters lost everything in the tsunami and now 3 months after the disaster they are in the slow process of moving into government housings.

 DAY 2
Day 2 breakfast. Today we had rice, miso soup, stir fried veggies, and natto

an absurd amount of eggs used for one batch...!!

okonomiyaki batter for 100 servings

This is our kitchen in the community center. Normally this kitchen is used for cooking classes and other community events. However, they are letting us use this space for volunteers.

checking to make sure we have all the supplies before we drive to our location. Each day we had a new shelter to go to.

This is the first shelter we went to. It was one of the biggest shelters in Tomeshi, housing about 150 or so people. This shelter consists of smaller shelters coming together over time to form a massive shelter. People here still live in gymnasiums that made into makeshift rooms. Because there are no walls, people are forced to use cardboard boxes to separate their living spaces.

We're all wearing masks so we don't spread any germs while cooking. Masks are very common in Japanese culture. Many people wear it when they are sick or when it's hay fever season. This isn't because of the radiation.

okonomiyaki on a hotplate

kitsune soba

Cooking for 100 was hard because it was a constant struggle with the heat. Notice this giant pot... it got pretty sweaty in here...

This is an area called Minami Sanriku. This is a town about 30 min away from the community center we are staying at.
You can see the entire town from this hill

This area wasn't hit hard by the earthquake but it was completely destroyed by the tsunami. There is still no lifeline in this area. The only place that is liveable is the middle school and high school that's on this hill. Many people are living in these two schools as shelters.

When I first saw this my mind went completely blank. It was the most shocking thing I have ever seen. When you look closely this isn't just garbage on the ground, they're remnant of a community. Due to the slow cleanup process bodies are still being recovered in this area, 3 months after the event.

I saw things like plates, stuffed animals, and shoes on the ground which are yet to be cleaned.The issue they are having to deal with now is the question of where to put all this ruble. Since the damage is so vast the government is struggling to find a place for it.        

Bayside Arena.
This arena is the biggest volunteer base in Minami Sanriku. This arena serves as a Japanese Self Defense base, a hospital, a shelter, and a morgue

This is one of the volunteer centres.

There are messages from around the world on these banners

Japanese Self Defense Base

The Self Defense Team is currently working to clean up the area using heavy machines and to provide basic lifelines back into the town.

This was originally a full building but now only the top part is still intact.

This building is blocks away from the ocean. The ground here has sunk a few feet below sea level due to the tsunami. I was told that the people near the ocean survived more than the people living a bit further away because they knew what the tsunami was capable of so they evacuated first. On the other hand, the people living closer to the hills didn't survive because they didn't think that the tsunami would hit their homes. 

These buildings are nothing but shells and will have to be rebuilt again

Even this house on a rather large hill didn't survive the waves.

Some areas are just filled with twisted metal and broken bits of concrete

Notice how the bridge is barely standing above the water. You can tell how the land sunk after the tsunami.

This is one of the symbolic buildings of Minami Sanriku. This used to be the city hall for this town. When the tsunami was approaching, a young secretary stayed behind to make emergency announcements to the town over the intercom. Many survived because of her heroic act. Her body was found a few days after the disaster.
 DAY 3

There are many things that have been found, anything from articles of clothing to government documents.

The hardest part about cleaning these pictures was to not get too emotionally attached to them. It was so natural to think things like "oh I really wish this person is still alive somewhere" while washing each item. These pictures might be the only thing that is left of that person, especially if their entire household was washed away. When making the decision to throw out the picture if it was too damaged you can't help but think that you are throwing away a part of this person's life. Even if we did clean the pictures and posted them up on display, there's no certainty that the owner will come to retrieve it. The only thing that kept me going was the lady in one of the shelters that told me how she found her son's baby album and the look on her face when she was telling me about it. I truly hope that these pictures are found by their owners.

This is the group I was working with for the week.

It was really cool to see volunteers working for other volunteers. This was a meal service provided for volunteers.

Another volunteer organization was letting us use a foot bath during lunch hour



we're only able to keep the photos where the face is still visible, otherwise we have to throw it out. 

It was so hard to decide whether to keep the photo or to throw it out....

There are 10,000 photos and found articles that are still in storage spaces

Inside the tent, it's pretty much like a sauna. Hats off to the volunteers who worked in this condition for one whole week.

"When I grow up I want to be a fisherman"

hanging up the pictures to dry

"Thank you to all the volunteers"

One of the perks of being on the meal team was our breaks. The meal team has to wake up at 5:45am every morning to start cooking breakfast at 6am. Then we would serve breakfast at 7am and be done by 7:30am. From then we have to clean up and start preping for lunch. By 9am we have to leave the community center and arrive at the shelter by 10am. After serving lunch at noon and cleaning up, we have to go grocery shopping for tonight's dinner and next days breakfast and lunch. Then after shopping we come back to prepare for dinner, then we serve dinner at 7pm. Then at 8 we have do be done cleaning. Each night there's a group meeting that we have to attend at 8:30pm which lasts for an hour. At 9:30 the meeting is over so we prep for bed and go to sleep at 10pm. That's pretty much what we did every single day for 7 days straight. But in between if we had time we were allowed to go for dessert!!! This was one of our lucky desert days.

This was another shelter that we served at. It was about 45 min away from where we were staying.

Since many residents are moving out into government housing, the number of residents in the shelters are shrinking by the day.

Today there was another volunteer group doing an exercise routine for the older people in the shelters.

I was really lucky to be able to talk to these people. This grandma in the middle told me stories about life before the tsunami and how the disaster took everything away. But they were still smiling and keeping their heads up even after such a devastating event.

Dinner: Chicken tomato stew, rice potato salad, and pumpkin soup

By far the best potato salad in the world. No doubt.


Breakfast: Rice, miso soup, roe with pickles, seaweed and spinach

one of the members playing with a little boy at a today's shelter. Everyone in this shelter were older folks who evacuated from Minami Sanriku

preparing for tonight's dinner

Last day!! Last shelter!!

fruit jello :)

Playing with a little girl who lives in this shelter

Last dinner: Mabo tofu, Hatto soup, pickles, watermelon, fruit jello

Group shot of all of us!!

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