Ishinomaki Report 2011.3.31

One other purpose of our trip was to cook hot food for the disaster victims. Volunteers from Kagawa set up a temporary kitchen at the Ishinomaki High School Shelter and cooked up a local Kagawa dish, bukkomi udon (noodles in hot broth with nutritious toppings). Everyone seemed very happy and relieved to receive a hot and hearty meal and many people thanked us for coming so far to help.

There are about 350 people at this shelter. In response to requests from the shelter, Second Hand had already sent 2 truckloads of goods (71 boxes). Thanks to the many different groups providing goods, including Second Hand, this shelter now has an adequate supply.

Preparing the food with the local people

Handing out the noodles to the crowd attracted by the delicious smell.

Delivering plastic tanks and cleaning equipment needed for recovery efforts.

In the town of Ishinomaki. The main roads have been opened by the Self Defense Forces but many smaller roads are still obstructed. Disaster volunteer centers are being set up by the Social Welfare Councils in each prefecture and these centers are now accepting volunteers. People will be needed to help with reconstruction efforts such as cleaning the mud and debris out of the streets and houses.

 

<Thoughts from Our Visit to the Disaster Area>

On our way up, we unexpectedly encountered a “caravan” of cars transporting policemen from Kagawa. As we drew closer to the disaster area, we saw ever more emergency vehicles with number plates from all over Japan including Shikoku. Somehow seeing them gave me courage and alleviated the tension that had been building up inside me as we approached. I was buoyed by a great sense of connection with the Japanese people – something I have felt many times since we began collecting funds and goods for the disaster area. The donors who bring in goods, the volunteers who come to help, everyone everywhere in Japan sees this disaster as their own and they are arising to act.

In the disaster area, I was also struck by the crucial role played by leaders and coordinators. Many were not necessarily in leadership roles before but they have arisen to respond to a need in their community. They are being required to objectively assess the situation, foster unity and cooperation within the group and channel people’s actions and energy constructively. Those at Ishinomaki High School where we delivered our goods have done an amazing job. Everything is very organized. The refugees only take the bare minimum of what they need from the donations delivered so that the rest can be distributed to other areas. A child space has been set up in one corner of the shelter to care for the children and fuel, electricity and other resources are being carefully conserved. The people’s faces in this shelter seemed surprisingly cheerful. In contrast, the leaders and coordinators at another shelter I visited were still in the process of developing their skills and I saw a noticeable difference. The shelter was more disorganized and the people looked more depressed.

Volunteers are beginning to flow in from all over Japan. Social welfare councils in each area are matching teams of volunteers to different areas and sending them out to help. These teams also need to have leadership and coordinating skills because once in the field they will have to gather information, assess constantly changing conditions, solve any problems that arise and identify key people in the community.

This experience reminded me of something Yasuko Nitta, the founder of Second Hand, frequently told me. “Coordinating skills,” she said, “are essential for the daily operation of organizations involved in international cooperation.” She has always maintained that NGOs represent an invaluable training ground for young people to acquire essential leadership and coordinating skills. This is one reason Second Hand started up its own student organization.

We are a small NGO but it is this that gives us the flexibility to respond quickly to small-scale needs in the affected areas. We will continue to transform the compassionate generosity of our supporters into concrete, direct and reliable assistance. Thank you for all your help to date and please keep the support coming.

 

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