this was my 2nd time to join a nikkei youth network/gakuvo volunteer trip, the 1st time was at the beginning of may, during the consecutive holiday period known as Golden Week. gakuvo is a student volunteer activity sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, and the NYN (also sponsored by NF) in involved in bringing international students into the mix. I have a huge amount of respect for them for making the effort to do this, as well as for the idea behind the organization itself, and specifically how these programs are run.
we meet at the Nippon Foundation in Tokyo, sign in and have an orientation. this is my 2nd time to hear the orientation, which covers NF activities in the disaster zone, what it means to be a ‘disaster volunteer’ and more specific information about the area we will be going to.
they make a point of saying that the role of the disaster volunteer is to respond to the needs of the local folks, not just do what they (the volunteer) wants or thinks is important. they also emphasize not working too hard or too fast, that the most important thing is to match the pace of and not cause extra stress on the local people. this idea is not intuitive (I think we all innately want to work the absolutely hardest that we can–I think we all must feel like the time we can give is so small that we want to do as much as humanly possible) but after a few volunteer experiences it starts to sink in, a little bit.
after 9 hours on the bus, we arrive outside of kesennuma, on what I am to find out later is the karakua peninsula. it’s a little more remote from the city, so help doesn’t find it’s way here as fast or in as large amounts as areas that are more accessible.
we will stay in the 2nd floor of B San’s house. the 1st floor was destroyed by the tsunami, but the 2nd floor is still intact. B San is currently staying next door, in the upstairs of a building whose use before the tsunami I don’t know. this house, this traditional Japanese house that we are staying in, that has huge timbers, and a built in kotatsu downstairs, will be torn down. later we see the B family’s main house up on the hill, which is much grander than this house. but still. a part of me wants to ask B San about his choice to tear down this building, but there’s absolutely no way I can ask him that question. it’s too personal.
there’s no electricity, although there is running water. there are 22 of us. this is the first time that the NF has brought volunteers here, so its a kind of test run. but the local connections have been well established long before we arrived, through a group called FIWC, Friends International Work Camp. they are young volunteers, and have been working with the local folks for a few months, and have an office/sleeping space up the hill from here.