journal, non-profits, photos, rikuzentaka, temporary housing, volunteer

day 1, rikuzentakata photo rescue

today was my 1st day to volunteer doing photo rescue, which is a long running all hands project, currently located in rikuzentakata city, but outside the city center, on a peninsula, either hirota cho or otomo cho, i’m not completely sure. (the land form is a peninsula, but maybe the locals refer to it as 2 chos (towns).
anyway, the photo rescue site is in the middle of a temporary housing area that was built on a rv park ground, which are pretty suitable to single family detached temporary housing.
some of it was wooden like sumida cho, and some of it was single family detached housing of the same size, but pre-an construction.
the photo work itself involves sorting trough photos that have been found in the disaster area, usually by volunteers cleaning up debris. the building is full (although less so that before) of these photos and other things that were found.
the photos get cleaned, put into albums, and then taken to nearby areas where people are living in temporary housing, in the hopes that someone will be able to identify the owner and reunite them.
since the water carried everything in many directions, it’s a bit of a shot in the dark, although apparently many photos have been reunited with their owners, which is encouraging.
the actual cleaning involves gently bathing each photo in cold water, and wiping off the dirt/bacteria that will destroy the print.
it’s pretty emotional, as you are looking at the faces in the photos, one after another. there were some lovely ones today, mothers holding children, friends taking trips, families growing up, school kids having a field trip.
you can actually see the love that people feel for their child, for example, even if I don’t know who they are. one album had photos of the same little boy since he was a baby, and toddler, and entered school, and had a baby sister. many of the his photos were with his mother, near the harbor or a boat, or rope, or the sea. the same sea that was a part of their life and is the reason the album is here, not on the shelf.
because it’s impossible not to think about the fact that these people may be dead. the cute babies, and the cute babies in the older photos from decades ago, and their parents.
these photos could be the last possessions of a family who lost everything. they could even be the last photographs for someone to remember a loved one who was lost in the tsunami. it’s a hard thought, but it creeps back into you mind, intact you can’t escape it. so we wash each photo, one at a time, hoping for the best.

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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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