Thank you very much for all your continued support this year. You have helped us assure people in Tohoku that they have not been forgotten as they continue to overcome daily challenges in rebuilding their lives more than seven and a half years after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Recovery and rebuilding take years. There are still people 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.
Since our last report, we have taken four groups of children and their caregivers from four different children’s homes in the Greater Tokyo Area to Miyagi Prefecture by bus to volunteer, gain greater confidence and learn about disaster preparedness. These volunteer trips and critical learning experiences are only possible with your generous donations.
Late summer and early autumn are very busy times for farmers in Tohoku as it is their primary growing season and when they must prepare for harvesting their crops Labor shortages 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 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.
With your generous donations, Hands On Tokyo was able to bring the children and their caregivers to Miyagi Prefecture to help local farmers, Saito-san and his wife, and the New Rice Center (NRC) in Yamamoto-cho. The NRC is an agricultural association of local farmers who grow and promote local rice and local produce.
In August, Hands On Tokyo brought 16 volunteers from a Greater Tokyo Area children’s home — including junior and senior high school boys suffering from “shut in syndrome” — to Yamamoto-cho. We helped Saito-san by weeding two of his negi (Japanese leek) fields. Afterwards the boys prepared and enjoyed a BBQ with Saito-san and his family. This was the first time the boys ever volunteered and they really applied themselves and did a terrific job helping Saito-san. It was also heartwarming to see how they supported one another and how they made sure each of them had a chance to help with the BBQ. It was also important for their caregivers to see what the boys are capable of doing.
In August, Hands On Tokyo also brought 18 volunteers from another Greater Tokyo Area children’s home — including junior and high school boys and girls — to Yamamoto-cho. We helped Saito-san by building up the soil beds on either side of his negi (Japanese leek) plants in two fields so that the plants can grow straight and strong.
In September, Hands On Tokyo brought 17 volunteers from another Greater Tokyo Area children’s home — including junior and senior high school boys and girls — to Yamamoto-cho. We helped Saito-san by removing dead rice plantings from plastic plant trays and cleaning the trays so that they can be reused next year. During this activity, the children learned an important lesson about sustainability and reusing what can be reused in our daily lives. Afterwards the children prepared and enjoyed a BBQ with Saito-san and his family.
In September, Hands On Tokyo also brought 22 volunteers from another Greater Tokyo Area children’s home — including junior and senior high school boys and girls — to Yamamoto-cho. We helped Saito-san by weeding two of his negi (Japanese leek) fields.
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 day would take the local farmers and their families many days to complete. Saito-san also said having the children enjoy a BBQ with his grandchildren was like having a festival on his farm — something his family has not been able to enjoy much since the earthquake and tsunami. Children’s laughter and smiles can be very healing in an area still recovering from natural disasters. His neighbor also commented how lucky Saito-san was to still have the support of volunteers.
All of the children also received natural disaster awareness and preparedness training. We took the volunteers from two of the children’s homes to an elementary school near Sendai which was an evacuation center during the tsunami and is now a museum. The children, teachers and local residents on the roof of the school survived the tsunami which tragically washed away the surrounding area. We took the volunteers from the other two children’s homes to an elementary school near Yamamoto-cho which is now a memorial. There the teachers, students and some local residents survived the tsunami by standing on the highest point of the school. The volunteers from one children’s home also received extra natural disaster awareness and preparedness training in Ogatsu. All of the students and their caregivers said how impactful this training was and how it will improve their own natural disaster preparedness.
Ogatsu in Miyagi Prefecture was completely devastated by the tsunami and is still far from being ready for reconstruction and redevelopment.
In August, Hands On Tokyo — with your generous support — brought children and their caregivers from a children’s home in the Greater Tokyo Area to do gardening at the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory. We moved planters so that the plants could get more sunshine, pruned the plants and added topsoil to the planters. We also cleaned and helped better organize one area of the garden.
In September, Hands On Tokyo brought children and their caregivers from another Greater Tokyo Area children’s home to Ogatsu. We helped prepare lavender seedlings.
A local resident built this 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.
On the way to Ogatsu, we also stopped at Ogawa Elementary School to pay respects by offering incense and flowers to the souls of the teachers and students who tragically perished in the tsunami. In September, a couple who lost their two grandchildren in the tsunami were there at the same time and they said how comforting it was to see children the same age that their grandchildren would be now had they survived paying their respects. They thanked us for bringing the children there and for not forgetting their grandchildren and their classmates.
All these volunteer trips were 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 have been an opportunity to experience volunteering themselves, to gain new experiences and life skills and to gain further self confidence. Thank you very much for your generous support in helping make all this possible. 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 children’s homes to volunteer in the future.
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 very hard to rebuild their lives. We already have a volunteer trip planned later this month and another in December.
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 in the Greater Tokyo Area.
Slowly but steadily the road to recovery is being paved.