Summer is the peak growing season and a very busy time for farmers. 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. Growing rice, vegetables and fruit 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 volunteers have been able to continue to support local farmers, Saito-san and his wife, and the New Rice Center (NRC) in Yamamoto-cho in Miyagi Prefecture. The NRC is an agricultural association of local farmers who produce and promote local rice and local produce.
On June, 14 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped Saito-san and his wife tend to this year's growing season by pulling weeds from hothouses and by preparing nets so that this year's paprika plants can grow strong and produce many paprikas.
In August, we took 15 students from a children's home in Tokyo and 9 other volunteers to Yamamoto-cho. The students and other volunteers helped a local strawberry farmer and his wife and son prune strawberry plants.
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 days to complete. Our volunteers also appreciate how hard farmers work throughout the year whenever they see fruits and vegetables for sale at their local supermarkets.
With your generous support, we will continue to organize volunteer trips to further support local farmers in Tohoku as they continue to work very hard to further rebuild their lives.
This summer we also made two trips to Ogatsu in Miyagi Prefecture. Ogatsu was completely devastated by the tsunami and is still far from being ready for reconstruction and redevelopment.
In June, 14 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped weed, fertilize, plant seeds and clear away leaves and dead flowers at the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory. And in August, 15 students from a children's home in Tokyo and 9 other volunteers helped weed the lavender plants at the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory. A local resident founded the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory after the tsunami so that former residents and visitors could once again see beauty when they first enter the Ogatsu area. She harvests the lavender and sells lavender potpourri in order to help defray the costs of maintaining the garden.
Our volunteers who traveled to Ogatsu in June and August also learned about Ogatsu's rich history of slate craftsmanship and the devastating impact of the tsunami. These presentations create lasting bonds between Tohoku residents who have experienced more than one can imagine and our volunteers who want to continue helping Tohoku as much as they can.
With your generous support, we hope to be able to continue bringing volunteers to Ogatsu.
Since our last report, we also had two new Tohoku projects.
In July and with the support of generous sponsors and individual donors, we helped bring a group of 19 junior high school baseball players from Kesennuma and Minami Sanriku in Tohoku to Tokyo for a 3-day baseball training camp with 21 junior high school baseball players from Minato-ku (in Tokyo) and their coaches.
These school kids from Tohoku have grown up in the aftermath of the tsunami, many living in temporary housing with their surviving family members. It has been very hard for school sports teams to practice as school sports fields in Tohoku have been used for temporary housing sites for the past 5.5 years. We wanted to create a Tohoku Project for some of these children to help them get extra sports training, to help them create new, happy memories and to have them bring their lessons learned and new athletic skills back to Tohoku.
The project involved boot camp training, coaching by two Japanese baseball players who played on Major League Baseball teams in the United States, two baseball games (which were won by the Tohoku team) and a day at Tokyo Dome to see the Tokyo Giants practice and then play against the Yakult Swallows. The Tohoku baseball players also engaged in volunteering by helping pick up debris in the Roppongi area before going to Tokyo Dome. It was a very moving and impactful experiences for all the participants and the volunteers who supported the event.
In August, we took 15 students from a Tokyo children's home and 9 other volunteers to a district in Minami Soma in Fukushima Prefecture where the former residents were allowed to return to their homes for the first time in July after having to suddenly evacuate more than 5 years ago. Their homes are still in disarray from the effects of the earthquake that preceded the tsunami and their yards are overgrown. We helped a local music teacher by clearing out, weeding and pruning her yard and garden.
She was overjoyed and practically in tears when she drove home after we got there and saw how much had been done. Most of the former residents who are returning are in their late 60s and older and it is very hard for them to do this kind of labor intensive work.
She told the volunteers about her experiences on the day of and immediately after the triple disaster, how hard it is to get repairs done on homes given labor shortages and the high cost of supplies and how in many respects it feels like Fukushima has been forgotten.
We will take another group of volunteers to Minami Soma in September and hope to bring more groups of volunteers there as long as people need help getting resettled in their homes.
There is still so much to be done in Tohoku and there are still so many people in need of support and encouragement. Thank you very much in advance for your continued support and for touching the hearts and souls of so many people in Tohoku.