Disaster Recovery Volunteer Project

by Hands On Tokyo

Happy New Year!

Thank you for all your tremendous support last year.  You helped us convey to Tohoku communities that they have not been forgotten as they continue to overcome challenges in rebuilding their lives after the devastating earthquake and tsunami nearly six years ago.

In the days, weeks, and months following a tragic natural disaster, many people come together in response. However, the number of volunteers going to and the amount of charitable donations for Tohoku have now dropped significantly.  There is a general sense among those living outside of the Tohoku area that everything in Tohoku is back to normal and that there is nothing more to be done.  Recovery and rebuilding though take years and it is natural for those trying to rebuild their lives to feel forgotten.  We greatly appreciate your continued general support as we work hard not to forget Tohoku.

Winter is busy time for farmers as they need to clear fields so that they are ready for next year's growing season.  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.

In November, 10 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped Saito-san and his wife with winter chores by pulling and removing dead eggplant bushes from a large field.  In December, 15 Hands On Tokyo volunteers (including members and leaders of a Boy Scout Troop from the American  School in Japan) pulled and removed eggplant bushes from another large field.

Eggplants can grow well in compromised soil, specificially soil that has been mixed with sand and salt water from the tsunami.  

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.  At the end of the day, Saito-san looked at the cleared fields with deep gratitude and amazement. He never imagined that the volunteers could do so much in such a short time period. 

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.

The November and December trips to Yamamoto-cho were also a time of celebration.  In November, we celebrated the near completion of the Saito Family's new home where three generations will live together after spending nearly six years in a very tiny temporary housing unit. In December, we witnessed the first day of service of a local train line since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The train runs next to the eggplant field, so we waved at each passing train and the conductor tooted the horn. It was heartwarming to witness the improvement and sense of community in Yamamoto-cho.

Aside from the farming activity, we were also able to bring the holiday spirit to Tohoku. Our volunteers created Christmas stockings from scratch that were hand delivered to a senior citizen`s home where former Ogatsu residents are living. The residents loved receiving individual designs of the socks and the personalized message attached to the gifts. It was a rewarding feeling to remind people that here, in Tokyo, we are still always thinking of them.

Slowly but surely the road to recovery is being paved. It is still a work in progress so we hope to continue to assist in recovery efforts. Thank you in advance for your continued support and helping sustain a powerful impact in the Tohoku area.

Cleaning the local family`s home
Cleaning the local family`s home

In September, we took 26 volunteers to a district in Minami Soma in Fukushima Prefecture, where former residents were finally allowed to return to their homes for the first time in July after having to suddenly evacuate more than five years ago. Their homes are still in disarray and their properties are severely overgrown from the earthquake that preceded the tsunami. 

We helped a local family discard unnecessary material from their home. This involved physically moving the materials from outside of their homes, dismantling furniture, and sorting the trash according to local garbage recycling rules. Afterward we cleaned the interior of the home. 

The father of the local family we helped was very grateful for the assitance we were able to provide, saying he could not have managed such a physically and emotionally difficult task without our assitance. He and his family can now focus on moving forward and rebuilding. 

Our volunteers were deeply touched by this experience, as they could witness firsthand how the 2011 Fukushima disaster impacted residents. The volunteers said they could not imagine the enormity of the tasks involved in actually moving back into one`s former home after more than five years away.

We also helped an elderly woman by clearing out, weeding, pruning her yard and garden. Her husband has unfortunately passed away, and it was physically impossible for her to tend to these tasks herself. Most of the former residents who are returning to Minami Soma are senior citizens and it is very hard for them to do labor intensive work. We were delighted to this work for her.

It was astounding to wtiness what our volunteers could accomplish in only two days. Our volunteers were also suprised by how much work still needs to be done in Minami Soma and other communities in Tohoku. The media has reported that people are moving out of their temporary housing and returning to their homes. Therefore the public has the impression that things have returned to normal in Tohoku, but this is not the case. 

The reality is that these families face enormous challenges in trying to return to their former homes after more than five years away. Hands On Tokyo volunters can make a real difference in helping families make a smooth transition into living in their old homes. We hope to bring more volunteers to Minami Soma and other communities in Tohoku for as long as individuals are in need of our help.Specifically, we hope to bring volunteers to help local farmers in the area reestablish their livelihoods in the near future. 

There is still so much to be done in Tohoku, and there is still so many people in need of our encouragement and assistance. Thank you for your support, and we hope we can count on your continued support in the future. Projects like these would not be possible without our donors. You have touched the hearts and souls of many people in Tohoku, and the residents of Minami Soma and Hands On Tokyo are so grateful for your help.

Pruning trees at senior resident`s home
Pruning trees at senior resident`s home
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. 
Spring is a very busy time for farmers. They must work very hard to prepare for this year's growing season. Labor shortages continue to make it very hard for local farmers in Tohoku to run their farms and grow their businesses 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. With the labor shortages, 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. 
 
In March, 13 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped Saito-san and his wife clear hothouses by removing clips and stakes and by pulling out old paprika plants in preparation for this year's growing season. 
 
In April, we took 22 members of the Hands On Tokyo Club at the American School in Japan (ASIJ). The students helped Saito-san, his wife and the NRC prepare for this year's rice growing season by gathering rice seedlings and setting them up in hothouses so that the rice seedlings can grow a bit before they are planted in the rice fields. 
 
Saito-san and his wife always ask us to convey to everyone who supports our volunteer activities in Tohoku just how much they and the NRC appreciate all the support. What Hands On Tokyo volunteers are able to accomplish in a day would take Saito-san and his wife and other local farmers days to complete. 
 
With your generous support, we will continue to organize volunteer trips to further support Saito-san and his wife, the NRC and others in Tohoku as they continue to work very hard to further rebuild their lives.
This spring we also made three trips to Ogatsu in Miyagi Prefecture.  Ogatsu was completely devastated by the tsunami and is where we built the first new permanent building -- the O-link House -- with your generous support and the generous support of the Major League Baseball Players Association and others.  The 0-link House is a community center and plays a very important role in connecting and keeping the Ogatsu community together while the infrastructure is still being rebuilt.  Former Ogatsu residents regularly travel to Ogatsu to use the O-link House to meet their friends and to hold meetings and classes. It also is a place where local artists can hold exhibits. 
In March, 13 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped weed and plant flowers at the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory. 
The volunteers also helped make 1,000 slate pieces from slate that was salvaged after the tsunami. The slate pieces are being used in an art installation project aimed at conveying the vibrancy and resilience of the Ogatsu community.  In April, 22 members of the ASIJ Hands On Tokyo Club helped further prepare the slate pieces for this art installation project.
Now there are only approximately 1,000 people who are part of the local community after factoring in all those who tragically perished in the tsunami and all those who have since moved away. Prior the tsunami, Ogatsu was famous for its slate and slate-making crafts. Each remaining community member is being asked to paint a piece of slate and, once all the pieces are painted, the pieces will be arranged in an art installation conveying the continued strength of the local Ogatsu community. We are very happy to be able to support this project. 
A local resident (who founded the Ogatsu Rose Garden Factory after the tsunami so that former residents and visitors would once again see beauty when they first enter the Ogatsu area) kindly conducted a disaster preparedness class for our volunteers who traveled to Ogatsu in March and April. 
In May, 11 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped maintain the O-link House by weeding the lawn and by painting the community center.  Being located near the ocean, the O-link House needs to be painted every two years. The volunteers were very happy to be able to paint the O-Link House and the fresh paint provides great encouragement to all members of the Ogatsu community. We are planning to bring more volunteers to Ogatsu over the summer. 
In May, the volunteers also made goody bags and decorated baskets filled with cookies handmade and beautifully decorated by volunteers from Moody's Japan in Tokyo. We then delivered the cookie-filled baskets to the Ogatsu Elementary and Middle School Parent Teachers Association so that the PTA could distribute the cookies to all the Ogatsu elementary and middle school children who are waiting for their schools to be rebuilt in Ogatsu. 
With your generous support, we will also continue to hold cafes and other events at temporary housing sites and evacuation centers in Tohoku and neighboring areas so long as people are still living in such places. 
 
There is still so much to be done 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. 
It is hard to believe that this month marks the Fifth Anniversary of the March 11th Triple Disaster in Tohoku. Please join us in taking a moment to think of all the people who tragically perished and all the people whose lives were forever changed that fateful afternoon. 
 
Agriculture was one of the key drivers of the Tohoku economy before the Triple Disaster. Labor shortages continue to make it very hard for local farmers in Tohoku to further rebuild their lives, run their farms and grow their businesses. Growing rice, vegetables and fruit is very labor intensive and the local farmers cannot do all the work just by themselves and, with the labor shortages, they need the continued support of volunteers. Recent news reports, however, indicate the number of people volunteering in Tohoku has dropped and the local farmers are feeling the impact. 
 
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, strawberries and apples.
 
In December, Hands On Tokyo volunteers and a group of  25 boy scouts and troop leaders from a Boy Scout Troop at The American School in Japan (ASIJ) helped Saito-san and his wife remove clips and stakes from an eggplant patch in preparation for this year's growing season. 
 
In February, 17 Hands On Tokyo volunteers helped Saito-san and his wife remove 1,000s of clips from five hothouses in which paprika plants are growing. What the volunteers were able to accomplish in a day would have taken Saito-san and his wife days to complete. After taking a short break while eating delicious grilled leeks grown by Saito-san, we also helped clear stones from land where Saito-san and his wife want to start growing vegetables this year. It was very moving to find fragments of everyday dinnerware from the houses washed away by the tsunami and to imagine how Saito-san and his wife will be able to clear the rest of the stones by themselves so that the land can be used to grow vegetables.  
 
We will continue to organize volunteer trips to further support Saito-san and his wife, the NRC and others in Tohoku as they continue to work very hard to further rebuild their lives and relaunch their businesses.
 
Five years later there are still people living in temporary housing. In December, Hands On Tokyo volunteers and the ASIJ Boy Scouts served rice pilaf, hot soup and hot dogs to temporary housing residents in Yamamoto-cho. We made holiday goody bags and presented them to the residents together with beautiful holiday wreaths made by employees of American Express Japan in Tokyo. We also decorated Christmas cookies with the residents. It was wonderful seeing so many generations enjoying this holiday activity together and seeing so many smiling faces. 
 

On Valentine's Day, 17 Hands On Tokyo volunteers served chicken wraps, rice pilaf and hot soup to temporary housing residents in Yamamoto-cho. We also made Valentine's goody bags for the residents and Valentine's chocolates, and decorated tissue boxes with lots of Valentine's hearts with the residents. There was much laughter and many smiles. The volunteers and residents could not think of a better way to spend Valentine's Day. When we prepared to return to Tokyo, the residents asked us to please come again soon. 

 
In December, nine Hands On Volunteers traveled to Joso City in Ibaraki Prefecture where, in September last year, there was unprecedented rainfall and tens of thousands of local residents were forced to abandon their homes as the Kinugawa Ruver burst its banks. The volunteers made lunch for 150 local residents whose houses were either swept away or made uninhabitable by the flooding and who are still living in temporary evacuation centers. We made chicken wraps and served them with hot soup and Christmas desserts. The local residents were very grateful to be treated to lunch, particularly now that the flooding is no longer in the news. 
 
Thank you for helping us bring smiles to the faces of so many temporary housing and evacuation center residents. We will continue to hold cafes and other events at temporary housing sites and evacuation centers in Tohoku and neighboring areas so long as people are still living in such places. 
 
There is still so much to be done and there are still so many people in need of support and encouragement. Thank you in advance for your continued support and for touching the hearts and souls of so many people in Tohoku. The local residents often say "wasurenai de ne" (which means "please don't forget"). With your generous support, Hands On Tokyo and its dedicated volunteers will never forget.
 

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Organization Information

Hands On Tokyo

Location: Tokyo - Japan
Website: http:/​/​www.handsontokyo.org/​en/​home
Project Leader:
Naho Hozumi
Tokyo, Japan
$84,301 raised of $99,000 goal
 
382 donations
$14,699 to go
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