volunteer, yomiuri shinbun

Foreign volunteers active in Tohoku, yomiuri shinbun, 5/7/11

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Aided by Japanese nongovernmental organizations, foreign volunteers have been working actively in areas affected by the March 11 disaster.

One of them is Canadian Robert Hamilton, a 39-year-old Tokyo resident. Hamilton visited Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, for a week in late April to help remove mud and clean furniture.

Hamilton said Japan had given him a good job and a fine wife since he came here 13 years ago, and that he wanted to give something back to the nation.

He said he was moved by the positive attitude shown by disaster-affected people he spoke with, which gave him great hope for the area’s future.

However, Hamilton was worried about the fact that many foreigners had left Japan and by exaggerated reports in some foreign media. He has used the Facebook social networking service to call on foreigners to respond in a level-headed manner to the disaster, participate in volunteer activities and make donations.

Hamilton went to Ishinomaki through a volunteer program run by Peace Boat, an NGO headquartered in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

Peace Boat usually arranges programs for Japanese volunteers in developing countries, but since late March it has called for foreigners both in and outside Japan to volunteer in disaster-affected areas.

So far, about 140 foreign people from 25 countries, mainly the United States and Europe, have worked as volunteers, removing debris and preparing meals for survivors.

Peace Boat also arranged for Japanese translators to accompany the foreign volunteers so they could communicate with local people.

Translator Ayumi Ando, 36, said, “Translators can help disaster victims accept foreign volunteers without anxiety, and allow volunteers to tailor their activities to local people’s needs.”

JEN–an NGO based in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo–created English and French pages on its Web site after the disaster, and has recruited foreign volunteers since April.

So far, it has sent about 30 foreigners to the affected area.

“We’ve received more inquires from foreign applicants than we expected,” said Yuka Hamatsu, 36, in charge of public relations at JEN.

Peace Boat director Tatsuya Yoshioka, 50, said: “Getting direct information from foreign volunteers will relieve the worries of other foreigners about Japan. We want to dispatch as many foreigners as we can, partly to spread correct information [about the current situation].”

For more information about foreign volunteers, call Peace Boat at (03) 3363-7967 or JEN at (03) 5225-9352.

(May. 7, 2011)

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About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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