International Efforts For Fukushima Coast Clean Up!

International Efforts For Fukushima Coast Clean Up!

By Ben Brandau

The wonderful group of volunteers!
The wonderful group of volunteers!

In the early morning hours of June 21, 2014, some Fukushima JETS and other members of the international community gathered together in the coastal town of Odaka with the intent to help out those whose lives were irrevocably affected by the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Enabled by a Facebook group and led by Minamisoma resident, Kate O’berg, the volunteers gathered from all reaches of the prefecture. They came with work clothing, gloves,and masks demonstrating that they were ready to get down and dirty in order to help restore and reclaim some of what was ruined in the Tohoku disaster. These thirteen Fuku-strong volunteers worked tirelessly to give help to the prefecture they have been living in.

There is still plenty of clean up to go, even three years post-disaster.
There is still plenty of clean up to go, even three years post-disaster.

Approximately 700 kilometers of Japan’s coastline was affected the tsunami. The recovery process in Okada has been particularly arduous and in need of assistance because it lies within the prior exclusion zone of the Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Though the town is now open to the public, many residents have left and volunteer workers usually opt to help in areas further away from the plant. Three years have passed, but there is still a great need to clean up many areas in Odaka and along the Fukushima coast. Knowing there is a job to be done, these outstanding volunteers were eager to offer their time, talent, and muscles.

Volunteers assembling for duty!
Volunteers assembling for duty!

The day began near Haranomachi Station in the parking lot of a convenience store. Some of the volunteers had traveled hours to meet up with the group and so they were keen for their morning coffee which helped fuel the efforts to load up equipment and supplies for the workday that lay ahead. It was a gray morning with threatening skies, but the cloud cover provided the welcomed benefit of cooler temperatures for the hard labor that was to come. Everyone packed into the cars and drove out to the Odaka volunteer center where they were briefed about the day’s activities and where they met up with other groups of helpers. Tools, boots, and bright green penny shirts were dispensed to each worker. After signing in and prepping up, the details of the projects were meticulously explained in Japanese and enhanced by somewhat perplexing, but nevertheless entertaining visual assists. The chalkboard-drawn “battle plan” maps resembled surrealistic art or perhaps complex game strategies. Overall, the mood was cheerful and the energy high to begin the day’s mission!

The first assignment proved to be highly satisfying since it involved clearing out nearly all the contents of two abandoned family homes. These houses had been occupied by a family of four, including a sweet elderly woman who had hoped to return to the town where she had spent her entire life. The years and the ensuing mold had ruined what was left in the homes and so everything needed to be removed. Surely a daunting and depressing task for the family to do alone, but the thirteen volunteers formed lines and hustled to remove the remains out quickly and efficiently. Then came the task of the gomi-bunbetsu, where our crew bundled, bagged, and bound the trash to be made ready for recycling and trash crews to pick up. The family was both thrilled and impressed by the speed and thoroughness of the group who were able to finish their hard and hot labor by 12:30: just in time for a well-deserved lunch break!

Break time!
Break time!

For those who did not bring along their own meals, Lawson had provided an ultra-convini on wheels truck. Between mouthfuls, volunteers chatted about the next task at hand. This time they would join with other Japanese volunteers to reclaim property taken over by the undeterred growth of weeds and such. Armed with weed-wackers, hedge trimmers and rakes the group powered through the mess of what was once a well-maintained estate. It proved to be sweaty, grassy, grueling work. Some Insects got their share of blood that day, Bite marks were left, and after the continuous swinging of their rattling weed-wackers and pulling of rakes, the members had impressive bulging forearms. Just as the days battle was coming to an end, the sky opened up and poured down its content as if the rain were to say, “Otsukaresama” to the volunteers.

Everyone returned to the base station to wash down dirty tools and boots and to get debriefed about the next day’s planned events. The operation leader expressed appreciation to all who had come and worked so hard. He wanted us to know that he would like to forget about the disaster and the loss to his town. For him, it was important that people should not feed into the morbid interests of the disaster by taking pictures and gawking. He wanted to move on from the suffering and sadness as quickly as possible.

Hitching a ride!
Hitching a ride!

I would like to think that through the small gestures of help we offered that day, we gave some measure of hope and comfort to replace what was lost on March 11, 2011. I would like to think that bad memories can be overcome by good memories of kindness and sacrifice and that people can come together to help those in need to heal the hurting. Those good memories are the ones which hopefully remain the strongest in the minds of those who experienced the disaster, not only the victims, but also for the volunteers as well. The work isn’t always glorious, but through volunteering and working together with everyone we are all able to move forward together. I think we all shared a feeling of satisfaction with the day, which was hopefully accented by evenings trip to an onsen for relaxation. Good work to all those who have volunteered in any facet of the Fukushima rehabilitation effort!

If you feel you would like to volunteer also there is still plenty of work to be done! If you would like to volunteer in Odaka, you can contact the volunteer center at 0244-26-8934. Be on the look out for more organized trips coming up!

 

Save Minamisoma Project: Helping Hands and Helping Hearts

Save Minamisoma Project: Helping Hands and Helping Hearts

By Kate O’Berg

Volunteers having a great time, posing in front of the delivery truck.
Volunteers having a great time, posing in front of the delivery truck.

“It’s been over three years and there are people that still need our help. We will help them until they don’t need us.” That is what’s running through the mind of August Hergesheimer, founder and chairperson of The Save Minamisoma Project. August, a Tokyo business man, jumped into action shortly after hearing that there were people literally starving in the Minamisoma area after the disaster. While other organizations were afraid to come close to the “zone”, August quickly gathered funds and located volunteers. He bought enough food for 1,000 people and led his team to Minamisoma. He didn’t expect that there would be thousands more people needing his help.

Even three years on, the same method of gathering funds, volunteers and donations is used, because the people here still need the assistance. It may not be for the same reasons as in the past, but it is still important and relevant. Volunteers and donations are still needed. The Save Minamisoma Project has been a true mental staple in the temporary communities and will continue to play a role for years to come.

On delivery day, locals fill the air with a buzz of excitement as the caravan of volunteers and delivery trucks approach the temporary housing units. Some locals pick out volunteers by name, others by the smile on their faces. As the volunteers set up the tables and unload wheel barrels to prep for the delivery, locals line up. Children run about, excited for their package of goodies brought by volunteers. That’s when the fun starts. When you’re standing in line, with wheel barrel in hand and a local standing beside you, you’ll feel an array of emotions. Every person is different, but I would say there’s a sense of gratitude between both the volunteer and the person receiving the donation. Some people who receive the donations are silent, guilt stricken that they’re receiving assistance, but there are many who’re grateful and look forward to sharing their stories. This brings to light that it’s not only food they need now, it’s the mental care that this project provides.

People don’t like to feel forgotten. It’s one of the worst feelings one can go through, but that’s exactly what locals living in temporary homes go through daily. With the Save Minamisoma Project, our foremost aim is to not let people feel forgotten. The food is just a tool for bringing people out of their cramped homes and engaging in conversation. More than ever, conversation and a sense of camaraderie are needed here in Minamisoma. Volunteers are still needed for our biweekly deliveries. If you want to know more, please check out their facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/113980158685755/ ) or website: www.saveminamisoma.org. The next delivery is 7/20. Come out and get involved!

 

Helpful Volunteering Links

Helpful Volunteering Links

Courtesy of our FuJET Volunteering Coordinator, here are some helpful links and e-mail links for volunteering:

Eyes for Fukushima:

Eyes for Fukushima LogoEyes for Fukushima (E4F) aims to promote grass roots internationalization in Fukushima Prefecture with devotion to improving the lives of people affected by the March 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster through events and fundraising. Eyes for Fukushima seeks to foster ties between Japanese citizens and JET participants at the person-to-person level. 

 

Site:www.eyesforfukushima.com
E-mail: eyes4fukushima@gmail.com

JCN Japan Cat Network:

japan cat network logoJapan Cat Network is a registered non-profit animal welfare organization helping people help pets through Trap Neuter Return programs, rescue, and re-homing. Volunteers perform regular rescue operations in the evacuated area of Fukushima, and operate two no-kill animal shelters.

Site: http://www.japancatnet.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jcnlinksandinfo
E-mail: volunteer@japancatnet.com

Playground of Hope:

playgroundofhope logoThe Playground of Hope is a “social fabric” project that aims to restore playgrounds in disaster-affected Tohoku communities as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to enhance economic recovery by making communities “livable” again for children, their parents and grandparents. 

Site: http://www.playgroundofhope.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/playgroundofhope
E-mail:  info@playgroundofhope.org

It’s Not Just Mud (INJM) *(request and contact on webpage):

injm logoIt’s Not Just Mud (INJM) is a non-profit volunteer organization specializing in disaster relief, grass-root support and rehabilitation of disaster affected individuals and small businesses. We are based in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, Japan and work in the Tohoku region.

 

 

Site: http://itsnotjustmud.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ItsNotJustMud

Save Minamisoma Project *(limited attendance, contact first):

saveminamisoma logoOur current efforts focus on delivering foods and safe drinking water to residents of the temporary housing units who lost their houses due to the tsunami and forced evacuation due to the radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants. SAVE MINAMISOMA PROJECT has been taking food and safe drinking water directly to the residents of Minamisoma city who are in need of assistance after 3.11 earthquake, the tsunami, and the radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants. 100% of the donation money will be used to purchase supplies.

Site: http://www.saveminamisoma.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SaveMinamisomaProject
E-mail: saveminamisoma@gmail.com

Minamisoma Odaka Volunteering Center *(Japanese Only):

minamisomaThe Minamisoma Volunteer Center is an NPO commissioned by the Minamisoma Council of Welfare, which aims to provide a network of support for disaster relief and reconstruction. 

 Site: http://ameblo.jp/v-home-net

 

 

Habitat for Humanity Japan:

habitat logoHabitat for Humanity mobilizes local leadership and resources to expand access for all people to decent, affordable shelter. Typically, volunteers and home partners work together through Habitat for Humanity affiliates to build or renovate houses. In this process, Habitat forgoes making a profit on loans through interest, putting value instead on meeting human need. Long-term housing security for a family, typically homeownership, is the expected result. 

Site: http://www.habitatjp.org/index_e.html
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/habitatjp/info
E-mail: info@habitatjp.org

List of current Volunteer organizations and movements helping Tohoku:

Site: http://www.jpn-civil.net/english/profile/members/

Volunteering in Fukushima- July 2013

by David Tacoronte

Playground of Hope

On June 22 and 23, the Playground of Hope team led by Michael Anop and a group of 12 Fukushima ALTs came together on a 2 day endeavour to brighten the days of the Shinchi town daycare children. The new playground, sponsored by Eyes for Fukushima, was built over the weekend and stands over 3 meters tall! In addition, the existing jungle gym, bar sets, and slides were all sanded, cleaned and re-painted. Check out the completed project and photos here. Make sure to like their page, and check to see if they will be sponsoring any builds close to you!

FUKU ROCK 13

Want to listen to live music? Want to help a great cause that supports volunteering organizations all over the prefecture? Like all you can drink hard and soft drinks? Them come out to FUKU ROCK 13! Eyes for Fukushima is hosting the live music event at “Club Neo” on July 6. All types of music will be played including acoustic rock, hard rock, electronica, dance, etc. All proceeds will benefit the ON THE ROAD charity who are doing great work around the disaster affected areas. It will definitely be a great time, and for a great cause. Check out the event page here.

Odaka Volunteering Center

Odaka, the southern ward of Minamisoma city, was badly affected by the Tsunami and Earthquake disaster, and still remains mostly evacuated till this day. Fortunately, the city has organized a volunteer and clean up center aiming to restore Odaka by creating projects to clean up, maintain, and rebuild the necessary parts of the town, along with the houses of currently evacuated victims. This volunteer center runs everyday, morning through afternoon, 10:00AM until 6:00PM. If you are interested in volunteering, you may reach the center at 0244-26-8934 (JAPANESE ONLY) between the previously mentioned hours. They offer room board for overnighters, and bus service from Haramachi station when requested (though self transportation is preferred if possible). Groups are also welcomed! Check out the webpage here (JAPANESE).

Volunteering in Fukushima- Spring 2013

an article by FuJET Volunteer Coordinator, David Tacoronte

Easter event at Soma Aiikuen

Easter is generally seen as a Western religious holiday celebrated during the spring time. In a non-secular fashion, it is usually cited as a holiday for the rebirth of nature and the coming of life during spring time! So to help celebrate, 7 volunteers including 6 JET ALTs and 1 local English teacher visited the local Aiikuen orphanage located in Soma city. Sponsored by E4F, the kids in the center spent the day making colorful paper Easter baskets, attending an egg hunt, learning a little about Easter, and finished by playing assorted games and activities with the Easter bunny. All in all, it was a fun afternoon, filled with smiles and chocolate! E4F looks forward to setting-up more events and continuing the bond with the orphanage in the near future! You can check out photos of the event on Eyes for Fukushima’s (E4F) Facebook page or athttp://e4f.fujet.org.

Playground of Hope

The Playground of Hope, or PoH, NPO project was launched on April 1st, 2012. They hope to bring relief to the Tohoku region by helping to build, and rebuild playground sets in all the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami disaster. Led by Michael Anop, PoH looks to raise spirits in the community by providing a source of entertainment, colorful aesthetic, and physical activity for the children. Seeing them smile, laugh, and have a sense of security is the ultimate goal. Just recently, the project successfully sponsored and built a large playground in the Haramachi area of Minamisoma city. Even with the chilly weather, the team, coupled with the spirit of the community, were able to get everything set-up within two days! Seeing the children laugh and play on the brand new play-set brought a sense of calm and hope which is ever growing on the coast.

The next playground, funded by E4F, is set to be built on June 22nd in Shinchi along the northern coast of Fukushima. The project will be visiting the Shinchi daycare facility and is planning to finish within two days. Check out the website at http://www.playgroundofhope.org/ or you can find their page on Facebook.

Fukushima Battle of the Bands

E4F will be hosting a Battle of the Bands event on July 6th! This event is geared towards the older students of the prefecture. Ten high school bands and five DJs will be battling it out in Club NEO to win the top spot and receive prizes and glory to continue their journey to fame! Come see live local music and support a great cause. All proceeds of the event will go to ON THE ROAD charity, which helps with clean-up, volunteer activities, events and many other relief efforts around the Tohoku region. Check out their website here: (Japanese only) https://otr.or.jp/support/
Check out the Battle of the Bands event over on Facebook at:
https://www.facebook.com/events/486844274717466

//this article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of the Lucky Island newsletter//