Important Information from Japanese Government
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
A Short Report from Team 10 to Ishinomaki (sponsored by KBF)
On Friday, July 15, we put up a team of ten (Kashiwa Lodge members + friends) to join a volunteer effort up to Ishinomaki with KBF, forming a team of 25 people in total.
The drive took about seven to eight hours with a several stops at the highway rest. I was put in a van with Celine and Bruce and Takahiro so that I have more freedom to stop for washroom in the highway. It was a very nice thought of Eric.
We didn't sleep but kept each other up by chatting a lot in the vehicle, and that seriously took effect on the second day while we began working. :-)
Before we started working, we drove by the destructed area, and spent sometime there. A huge sign 『がんばろう！石巻』had been set up at the site, and flowers, cans of beers and drinks were placed to remember the dead, and I found a wooden cross was placed there too. I was really glad that Takahiro was able to come along, and while he mentioned to me that what went through his mind at that moment, was the daily life of the people and families that were supposedly there, I was almost sure that this trip would leave an impact in his life and a beneficial one. I hope that he would share this experience to others.
I splited up with the group in Ishinomaki, where they were sent to work at a field above the river, and I spent my time in the volunteer center, trying to find out more about ways to cooperate with the city officials in long term outreach of kokoro no care (mental health care). Even as we considered the Ishinomaki volunteer center as the best organized city effort, I was surprised to find that the volunteers were mostly non locals. The volunteer center explained to me some work that had been done by the local communities and the volunteer organization from Tokyo named Recovery for Japan. I see some certain trace of follow up and work of mental health care. Some of the work that I am planning do repeat with some of the self-initiated events of the locals too. We agreed with each other that in a long term, we do need to pull effort with other volunteer organizations in considering the impact of what we could make out of the limited resource, and the impact of unnecessary retraumatization to the victims in every effort that we do. The unreleased information keeps the kokoro no care for the disaster victims much more difficult. My concern would be if our care would truly reach the disaster victims that were being assigned to the temporary houses. (noted that the people who gets the priority to move into temporary houses are from these areas. where houses and families were supposed to be located at the mess you see in this picture.)
Again, the information of how many temporary housing were built, the general information of residents, the specific needs are not in link with the volunteer center. It was released in the news around June that there would be about 18 blocks of temporary houses for the disaster victims that could hold about 100 people in Ishinomaki. However, by driving around, and talking with the locals, it seems that there are far more than that. The person in charge advised that I may try to find these information with the city official website, but I am still far from locating the necessary information. Because of the limitation of the information, I hold back my proposal, and was not able to discuss more until I am connected to others who are doing more practical works in the field.
The taxi driver that drove me from the volunteer center to a nearby shopping mall expressed to me his concern of the elderly people who stay in the temporary houses may not have access to the facilities for daily living especially for those without cars. It was true that if I have to pay 2,180 yen from the volunteer center to the nearby shopping mall, and along the way, with the many temp. housing that I have seen along the way may have serious difficulties pertaining to this issue.
Jusco, now named AEON, was located at another side of the location in the picture above. According to the locals, it had turned into an evacuee center in the time of tsunami. The taxi driver playfully told me that the place is so huge, and that I would probably lost my way in it. The kind driver spoke in a tohoku dialect, which I could only understand 60% of it when it comes to unfamiliar topics.
The place was indeed big, and with words around like, "ガンバッペ石巻!" I walked around the shops, to get a feel of the customer flow, and the utilization of the facilities in the mall. The sales girl told me that they certainly have a huge customer flow, especially during the weekend. Then I realized that people from Kesennuma 気仙沼 came over to this shopping mall because this is the nearest mall that they could get after the destruction of the Kesennuma city. The mall gets a lot of residents from surrounding too as the young and old were trying to escape from the heat.
I was then tired and exhausted, and decided to take a rest at one of the sofa located at the corridors and walk ways, opposite a nail polish store. I dozed off quickly until an old woman sat beside me. I guess I behaved very local, like a school girl, waiting for my parents to come and pick me up in the store. We smiled to each other. Although the mall is with air-conditioning, we were still feeling exhausted from the heat outside the building at the place where we sat. Then, the old woman began to talk to me, complaining about the weather, feeling pity for my exhaustion. And she asked me what I was doing, and I told her I was waiting for my team to come and pick me up after their volunteer work at the other side of the river. After she found that I was from Tokyo, she looked at me unbelievingly and said, "oh... it is really terrible that you have to travel up here for this work at this weather! " Then she made an remark, "it is worse in Tokyo, right? the heat must be more terrible there."
The old woman told me that her sister and brother in-law who were staying at the site (refer to the picture above) were still missing, and she herself went to AEON for refuge during the 10 days course. She illustrated to me how it was in the mall when it was turned into evacuee center, all the walking lanes were filled with people, and what they were given for food during the ten days. Her husband ran up to the hill. She has two adult boys who are not staying with her, but everyone is safe in her family. Now a relative of her, a form 2 girl was the only survivor in her family in the tsunami. All the while when she tells her story, she remained calm and good humor. During our conversation, another woman sat down beside us, and listened to our conversation. Then she asked the old woman if she was from Ishinomaki. And she introduced herself that she was from Kesennuma. They then described the terrible event, tracing to the evacuation warning of tsunami. This woman from Kesennuma stays at the hill side. When the alarm sounds and the evacuation warning was announced, she mentioned that the announcement was "It looks like the tsunami is coming" rather than "The tsunami is coming", which had probably caused many people to ignore the warning, and when the tsunami came, it was too late to escape. She illustrated how the water rushed to the foot of her house, and the people were screaming for help, and she was afraid to help anyone for the fear of being pulled into the fierce water. I began to imagine even if the people have run, they would not probably had stopped at the hillside, or need to take a break at the foot of the hill. I guess there could be a proportion of healthy elderly people may run faster that me, but I suppose there are more elderly people who are just like the person sitting in front of me, suffering body and muscle aches with their long hours of laboring in rice field or sea. The woman's grandson was trapped in the school, and they were saved by the helicopter after three days.
After about an hour talking to each other, we bid each other goodbye, and I went to food court to have my lunch, and began to put down my thoughts from all these observations.
I began to realize that most of the local people who mingle at the mall are probably not so much concern with volunteer work nor people who are assigned to temporary houses. Most are probably affected by the tragedy, but not the one that I am targeting at. No posters or related leaflets of volunteer informations or events that were created for the disaster victims, and it would be difficult to classify nor measure the loss of the victims. This observation tells us that there is a huge challenge in how to reach out and disseminate information to people in need.
The team came to pick me up after their sweat labors in the hot sun. :-) Then we got them McDonalds for dinner in bus... (Thanks, Eric and Tsunoda-san!)
It was even best, that due to an unforeseen traffic jam, we were far behind schedule in reaching Tokyo, and based on the large number of volunteers we have this round, Tsunoda-san sent eight of us back to Kashiwanoha campus. Although this was an unusual measure at an unusual situation, I was really glad that everyone had been patient and gracious enough to get us home.
At the end of this, I would like to express my deepest gratitude the student team: Celine, Zoli, Erik, Rob, Nic, Gareth, Tuba, Baron and Suzuki. Thank you so much, and I hope that you had a wonderful time in your labor and friendship building with one another! Most of all, thank you for being patient and generous with me, for the frequent washroom stops that I made and my "sneaking out" from the hot sun labor. ^^ Looking forward to have more fun with you guys!!!