I was in Sendai from Sunday until Friday and of those 5 days, I spent 3 of them volunteering in a town called Tagajo. Tagajo was one of the towns hit by the tsunami but unlike the other places I've been to the homes are not completely destroyed. There are however many challenges that come with "Hankai" (partially damaged) homes. Many people who's homes were damaged are dealing with restoration of their homes. Restoring damaged homes after the earthquake and tsunami is not an easy task. It takes many months of volunteers shoveling out dirt and debris and scrubbing down oil stains from windows and walls. I was able to experience this in Tagajo so keep reading for details!
* I was told by the volunteer centre not to take pictures of the actual sites because of privacy issues so this time I unfortunately don't have many pictures to share. But I will explain what I did during my week.*
Today was the first day of volunteering in Tagajo. I was assigned to spend the day in a warehouse right behind the Tagajo volunteer centre to sort and distribute donated clothing items. These goods are sorted into bins then taken out side for the disaster victims to come and take anything they need for free. The only problem is that now 4 months after the disaster, many stores and even malls have reopened. The disaster victims have partially restored their lives, especially things like clothes and food are not difficult to buy at local stores. However, there are now people who come to these volunteer centres to take these free items just because they can, not because they need it. As I was distributing these bins there was a group of about 20 or 30 just waiting outside for us to bring out the clothes. Our supervisor told us that these group of people come here every day waiting to grab more free things. As soon as we put the bins down they would hoard whatever they could get their hands on. He also told us that some of these people take donated items so that they can sell it to other people for profit. It was a side of disaster victims that I have never seen before nor have been captured by the media.
This made me question whether this was just the true colours of human nature? Maybe manners and morals are just a facade and it can't win over things like greed? I was just so surprised that people in a country where manners are a fixed part of the culture would have this side to them. However, it is difficult to stop giving out free items because there are still donated items waiting to be distributed in this warehouse. Also within the group of people who come to this volunteer centre there are some that actually do need these items because they are still in situations where buying things isn't even an option. The problem though, is that there is no way of weeding out who are the ones who are in desperate need of donations and who are the ones who come here for leisure. It is also true that the people who are in real need cannot make it out to the volunteer centres because their cars have been washed away or they cannot come out into a crowd like this because they are still grieving over their loss.
These are videos of our work that day in the warehouse
|"Tagajo-shi Disaster Relief Volunteer"|
|Inside the Volunteer Centre. These are all individual volunteers that have come from all over Japan.|
|Each day we sign in and then we go to the waiting room where we are assigned our job for the day.|
|With Sae for the second day!|
Today's assignment was debris and sludge removal from a local home. This home is located right beside the river, which overflowed when the tsunami hit this part of town. The first floor was completely flooded and all the furniture had to be removed from this house. My team's main job for the day was to take out the sludge from under the floor boards so that the construction workers can come in and rebuild the floors. It was so hot and humid that we all had to take mandatory water breaks. Today was all about manual labor so we all took turns carrying out 10 kilo bags of sludge outside on to the street. One older man who we worked with fell through one of the walk boards and scraped his knee. It wasn't that big of an injury but due to the Tetanus out break in disaster sites he had to be taken back to the volunteer centre. I think he was okay, but it made me realize that this job really isn't just a walk in the park.
|My volunteer team for the day|
So today was another day of sludge removal from another home. This time we were assigned to remove the debris from around the house and in their garden. This was by for the hottest day reaching a high of 31 deg. We were the third volunteer group that had visited this home but due the extent of the damage a forth is definitely necessary. The neighborhood we went to was heavily damaged by the tsunami and many people died because of it. The residents were mostly older people who couldn't escape in time. But because some of these homes are still liveable the residents are now forced to decide whether they want to spend the effort to restore it or to move out into the next city. One house around the corner was completely liveable but the owners were too traumatized to live in the same neighborhood because it is said that there is a possibility that another major earthquake might happen in the next 2 years. I realized that the tsunami hadn't just visibly damaged people's homes but it had really damaged people's hearts.
|"Kagi-gori" (crushed ice with syrup) to end a hard days work :)|
|"reopened for business"|
The interesting thing about Tagajo is that the extent of the damage stops right by the river. So in this picture above, the left side was completely devastated by the tsunami because the ocean is on the left but the right side was saved because it stopped right by the edge of the river. On the right there is the city hall, main train station, a few schools and many homes. It is safe to say that if it weren't for this river the damage in Tagajo would have been much bigger.
|Chi (left) Kyle (center) Sarah (right)|
|Had dinner with them the night before at an Okinawa restaurant. |
Kyle in the middle is one of the founders of Teachers For Japan.
|"The miraculous city of Matsushima. We were saved by our islands"|