mainichi shinbun, volunteer

College students spend spring break helping out in disaster-affected areas, mainichi, 4/1/12

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi — For many college students, spring break is a time for traveling, partying and freedom, but this year some are spending their time helping in the massive cleanup after last year’s quake and tsunami.

The continuing experience of helping the Tohoku region in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has brought students closer to the region, and now, more than a year after the disaster, many of them say they want to return.

At the end of February, six students rolled up their sleeves and began preparing a field for crops in the Miyagi Prefecture city of Ishinomaki. The work was organized by the nonprofit Nippon Foundation.

The six carried soil into a vacant area, removed pebbles, drove in pilings around the field, and erected mesh fencing to prevent against damage by deer. They were responding to the wish of a disaster survivor who is now living at a temporary housing complex in the city. The survivor had spoken of a dream to once again have the chance to work on a field.

The students were occasionally helped by local residents. When experienced residents caught sight of clumsy hammer work, for example, they stopped to give the students a few tips. Other residents thanked them for their work.

“They’ve come from far away and have been working so hard to help us. These are some impressive young people,” said Katsuzo Takahashi, 71, a local fisherman who worked with the students as he praised their determination and support.

“I’m done with job hunting and have plenty of time and physical energy, so I wanted to help, even if it’s only a small contribution,” said 22-year-old Chie Okugawa, a senior at Tokyo’s Chuo University. “When I make acquaintances I feel like returning here.”

It was Okugawa’s third time to work as a volunteer in Ishinomaki following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that struck the area on March 11, 2011, though it might not be her last. “I will come back here even after I start working,” she said with a smile.

Another student, Akihiro Setta, 19, a freshman at Yokohama National University, was in Ishinomaki for the first time after the disasters. “I’d been thinking for a very long time that I should come here,” he said. “A lot of manpower is still needed here. I’d like to continue to be involved in activities.”

Some students in the foundation’s volunteer team have also traveled to other affected areas, including Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture and Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture.

Between April 2011 and February 2012, some 5,000 college students visited the affected areas with the Nippon Foundation group as aid and reconstruction volunteers.

“There are many university students who spend about a week in the affected areas, which gives them the opportunity to form bonds with disaster survivors,” says Yumi Matsumoto deputy leader of the nonprofit organization “Iwate Ginga-Net” which serves as a bridge between university students and residents in the disaster-stricken areas.

“We want student volunteers who are able to work together with disaster survivors to come here,” she added.

April 01, 2012(Mainichi Japan)

About liz

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

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