It is hard to believe that it has been nearly nine years since the devastating earthquake and tsunami along the Tohoku Coastline in Japan. You have helped us assure people in Tohoku that they have not been forgotten as they continue to overcome daily challenges in further rebuilding their lives. Recovery and rebuilding take many years. People are still living in what was originally intended to be temporary housing and there are still significant housing, infrastructure, labor and other shortages in the region. In addition, with the passage of time and the occurrence of devastating natural disasters in other parts of Japan, the number of volunteers going to and the amount of charitable donations being made for Tohoku continue to drop.
Labor shortages throughout Japan continue to make it very hard for local farmers in Tohoku to run their farms and in turn to further rebuild their lives. Many of the local farms are family run with one, two or three family members doing all the work themselves. Growing and harvesting rice, vegetables and fruit sufficient enough to earn a modest livelihood and to repay the significant debts they incurred after the earthquake and tsunami is very labor intensive and the local farmers cannot do all the work by themselves. They need the continued support of volunteers.
The local farmers always ask us to convey to everyone who supports our volunteer activities in Tohoku just how much they appreciate all the support. What Hands On Tokyo volunteers are able to accomplish in a single day would take the local farmers and their families many days to complete.
Since our last report, we have taken two groups of volunteers to Tohoku. We had planned to take three groups but had to cancel one trip due to a typhoon. In late October we took 15 girls and their caregivers and in early November we took 17 boys and girls and their caregivers, from two different Tokyo Area children’s homes, to Miyagi Prefecture by bus for two days to volunteer, gain greater confidence and receive natural disaster awareness and preparedness training.
Each group helped Saito-san and his wife in Yamamoto-Cho (Miyagi Prefecture) remove dead plants and dismantle metal pipes that are used to support vegetable plants as they grow. These activities need to be done after the final harvests and are very labor intensive and important as the land must be cleared of all dead plants and piping before winter. Everyone worked very hard and Saito-san and his wife greatly appreciated all their hard work. It was very impressive to see how much the children accomplished while volunteering.
Ogatsu in Miyagi Prefecture was completely devastated by the tsunami and is still far from being ready for reconstruction and redevelopment.
A local resident built a Rose Garden near the land where her mother perished in the tsunami to calm the souls of those who perished in the tsunami and so that former residents and visitors can once again see beauty when they first enter Ogatsu. It is also a place where families go to grieve the loss of their loved ones in the tsunami. The garden keeps growing every year and now includes a grove of olive trees and a small cafe selling ice cream and homemade baked goods and herbal drinks. The founder now wants to create jobs at the garden through the olive grove and the cafe so that young people will want to work and live in the Ogatsu Area. The garden cannot be maintained without the support of volunteers.
Both groups of children from the Tokyo Area children’s homes volunteered at the rose garden by first digging up potatoes and then preparing the soil to grow blueberries and planting blueberry bushes. They also used dried flowers from the rose garden to make colorful bookmarks and postcards. The founder of the rose garden wants everyone who volunteers at the rose garden to share the beauty of Ogatsu with others so that more people will visit Ogatsu and so that happy Ogatsu memories can once again be plentiful.
The children from the Tokyo Area children’s homes also received natural disaster awareness and preparedness training. Saito-san shared his experiences during the tsunami and stressed the importance of taking action to protect oneself by going to the nearest highest ground no matter what others may say. The founder of the rose garden also taught the children the importance of knowing where to go in the case of an emergency and to take refuge immediately.
These volunteer trips are very impactful on the children and their caregivers. For the children who are the beneficiaries of volunteer activities at their children’s homes, these volunteer trips are an opportunity to experience volunteering themselves, to gain new experiences and life skills, and to gain further self confidence. The children greatly appreciate the opportunity and are still benefiting from all that they learned and experienced. Many want to volunteer again and they have encouraged others in their group homes to volunteer in the future. These volunteer trips are also an important opportunity for the caretakers to better understand each child’s fullest potential. We are deeply committed to continuing to organize these volunteer trips for children and their caregivers in Tokyo Area children’s homes.
There is still so much to be done and there are still many people in need of encouragement and support in Tohoku. With your generous support, we will continue to organize volunteer trips to help farmers and others in Tohoku as they continue to work hard to further rebuild their lives. Before the end of this year, we will take two more volunteer groups of junior and senior high school students to Tohoku.
Thank you very much in advance for your continued generosity, for touching the hearts and souls of so many people in Tohoku and for helping provide these life changing volunteer opportunities to so many children living in children’s homes, and to other children living, in the Greater Tokyo Area.
Slowly but steadily the road to recovery is being paved.
We wish all of you a joyful holiday season and peaceful new year.