Friday, July 1, 2011

YF3 x NICCO Volunteer Week 2

 Finally got everything uploaded and ready to go! I'm so sorry for the delay everyone!
This was my second week of volunteering as a Youth For 3.11 member with NICCO. This time we were assigned to work in Kessenuma and Rikuzentakata. These are two of the most devastated areas in Tohoku. It is said that these areas were not effected by the earthquake as much as it was by the massive tsunami that swept through the entire area. Many have died and many more are still missing.

Our job as NICCO (Nippon International Corporation for Community Development) was to clear out rubble and dirt from homes that have been untouched since the disaster... read on for more details.

                                      DAY 1

our lovely little home. This is where all 20 of us volunteers stayed.
The two middle rooms and the room on the bottom right corner is being rented out by NICCO.

oh yes, and please note that Japanese people don't make curry in the bath tub. We were only using it because the curry we were going to eat was frozen in a giant bag left by the previous group and there wasn't a pot big enough to defrost it.
Curry for  20! Looks kind of like pop art!

 We used one of the rooms as our meeting/meal room. Therefore, there are no tables or seats. But hey, that's volunteering right?

Every night after dinner we have a group meeting. In this meeting we talk about how our day went, what kinds of things we did, how effective it was and how we can make changes and adjustments tomorrow. These meetings were very important during our stay because it gave everyone a chance to discuss each member's opinions and suggestions.

example schedule
Every morning we would wake up at 6 am and leave the apartment by 7:30. Depending on the area, it would take us over an hour to get there. We usually ended our work at 3 pm and ate dinner at 7 or 8. Then after that we had some free time.

work hard, play hard!

                                     DAY 2
Breakfast is also eaten on the floor. Today we had cereal and bananas.

My new friend and group member Miki from Texas! She's half Japanese and just like me, she is using her summer vacation to volunteer in Japan. Youth For 3.11 is becoming very international.

Our trademark vest. This is to keep track of who's who. There are so many volunteers in this area that it is very important that we all wear the same vest so others know who we are as well.

This was such a hot day and we all had to wear rain pants!

Lunch time!! We each get two rice balls and a snack for lunch.

"Kessennuma Fish Market"

The Japanese Self Defense are using heavy machinery to plow through roads and homes.

The clock here has stopped at the exact time the tsunami hit the port on March 11th.

This boat had gone up in flames after the tsunami. There was a massive amount of oil that spilled from the boats around this port.

A tough reminder of what this disaster has done to people's lives....
 This footage was shot during our lunch break. This part of town is just a few blocks away from the fish market. As you can tell it's pretty much a ghost town. This used to be one of the busiest fish ports in Tohoku but since the tsunami many have perished or have moved out of the area permanently.

It's hard to tell in this photo but there's a faint white line on the window.
This is the height of the tsunami when it hit this home.

Group shot of the day! The man in the orange pants is one of the fishermen who stayed regardless of his situation in hopes to revive this area once more to it's original state. He told us that next time we all come he will throw us a big party with lots of Kessennuma fish and Japanese sake. I'm looking forward to the day I will return to see this beautiful port come back to life.
                                    DAY 3
This is the Kessennuma Volunteer Centre. All volunteers must register with this VC in order to work in the area. This is where volunteers receive their work for the day and they can also borrow supplies like shovels. We visited this VC each day to register and to get work for the day. There were many volunteers from around the world. I ran into a group of international students from US who were here on a grant to volunteer. Their group was formed by students who were interested in volunteering from the entire country. I thought that this was an amazing idea and the Canadian government should give out grants for students who want to volunteer.
 This was by far the toughest day we experienced. The weather had hit a high of 30 degrees and we worked for about 6 hours in total. Our job was to clear out the inside of this warehouse and separate the rubble into things that the owner wanted to keep, and things that were burnable, and things that were going to be trashed. It took all 20 of us to clear out one small room. Now imagine how much man power, time and money it takes to clean an entire coast. We need more volunteers!

"Please tear this down - by the home owners"

It isn't hard to find home that have been cleaned out by volunteers but are now on the edge of being torn down. After cleaning out the inside professionals come to evaluate whether the homes are in livable conditions. Many home that were left untouched for a few months have now decayed to the point where renovations are pointless. Therefore, many owners post signs on their homes asking the government to tear it down. It is the sad truth about this area.

during our lunch break!





The inside of this ware house was so humid and smelled so bad that there was no way that we could have gone in there without masks and rain jackets. But after a hard days work the effort is very visible.

Group shot of the day!
The lady who owned the warehouse was so happy to see such a huge difference.

Another problem this area is facing is the infestation of over grown flies.

These flies are absolutely everywhere and are causing health alerts.

These home made fly traps are inventive ways of home owners trying to get rid of them.


Today a few of the members from the meal team switched with the rubble team. 

our task for the day was to help prepare meals for 250 people living in this gymnasium.

There were 3 resident cooks telling us what to do. Our job was to follow those orders and help them efficiently make the meals on time. The great thing about these 3 cooks was that, all 3 are tsunami survivors. However, their homes and restaurants were washed away and now they are also forced to live in shelters. But thanks to NICCO they are now hired as cooks for this particular shelter and they are using their knowledge for other survivors.

This is the outside of the shelter. It looks nice on the outside but inside it is very hot and full of people. There are no private rooms so people are forced to sleep on the floor with futons. One man I saw was sleeping on a bench out in the busy hallway. I realized how hard the lives of survivors must be.
 This is footage from just a block away from the shelter. This is where the people who were picked to live residential shelters. They are made by the government for those who have children or who are too weak to live in a crowded gym. However the people who live in these shelters do not get any support from the government once they have moved out of the gymnasium. They are not allowed to take the free meals or free goods that have been donated to the shelter. These homes are a symbol of independence, and with independence comes new problems like depression and ultimately suicide because they feel that they don't belong to a community anymore. Read this link for more details Suicides upping casualties from Tohoku catastrophe By ROB GILHOOLY

Self Defense Force opening up a free bath service for the residents in the shelters

 This is on our way to the second shelter where I helped prepare dinner.

"Koi- Nobori" (flying carp) these were made by elementary students as a symbol of hope and peace

the second shelter we went to
                                     DAY 5
Unfortunately it rained on day 5 and our plans were cancelled. When it rains the work becomes too dangerous for volunteers so we spent the day touring around the area. We went to Hiraizumi - a very famous temple and an ice cream shop.

 Our team became really close after a few days of working together! Its great how volunteering can bring people together :)
Saw a really big mud slide on our way back

 The rest of the day was free time!!

                                    DAY 6
Day 6 was also cancelled due to weather, but our driver Mr. Ito gave us a tour of the most devastated areas of Rikuzentakata. This was by far the most damage I have ever seen. It really made me change my perspective on life.

Thank you to our driver Ito-san. You were a great leader and a great guy to talk to!

YF3 X NICCO 10th
 Thank you for the amazing week full of laughs, tears, and a little bit of everything else. One of the most unforgettable experiences I will treasure for the rest of my life. First week of my 20th year on earth, I think I spent it well. Many thanks!

P.S. To those who stuck around to read this until the end. There must be a reason why you read this all the way through, maybe you are supporting my efforts, maybe you are interested to learn more about Japan, or maybe this has inspired you to do something yourself. Whatever the reason, if there is even a little whisper that's pushing you to volunteer and make a difference, follow it. Follow your heart. Do something so crazy that you never thought you could do it. I mean hey, look where that little whisper took me to?


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