3 days in Ishinomaki. Shoveling, mud-bagging, sorting debris, hauling, digging up black oily stinky goop. YIS partnered with Peace Boat, a group that is organizing a massive volunteer effort in the area. They do cooking, donation distribution, and cleanup...foreign volunteers generally land on the cleanup crews because it's labor that doesn't require too much language and coordination...somehow fitting. A good kind of humbling.
I didn't know how much good I could do with my meager strength and just a few days. But as one of my teammates quipped, "Every shovel-full we do is one that someone else doesn't have to." I felt it was totally worth my while to join the little blue-vested swarms that descend on homes for a few hours with shovels and wheelbarrows. To do, to see, to be seen by the people living in the community. Although, I must say, after I saw this video, I wondered how much help I really was. These are the IBM football team who apparently send people up every week.
The scenery around town is much as you'd expect. You've seen the images. We were centered in a neighborhood one layer out from the sheer devastation. It's stll serious and sobering, but here there are homes intact, with owners living in the second floors already or actively trying to clean up and make them habitable.
These two above are before and after pictures of a drainage ditch we cleaned out. We also rebuilt the retaining wall with materials at hand. 7 people, 3 hours of work. We liked this project because it was discrete and hopeful. A drain returned to functioning. A wall rebuilt.
The guys even got to break out the power tools with Sato-san, the 75-year-old owner of the house. They seemed happy about that.
Some of our group couldn't get enough of the gooey black goop. Scooping, shoveling, bagging.
Walking through the neighborhoods, I had a distinct sense of wanting to remain an anonymous blue-vested volunteer. That it didn't matter who we were and what we did individually. That we make an impact through sheer numbers and through the small actions we do. We certainly expect no gratitude or acknowledgment from people who have been through so much and are now tolerating so many strangers in their midst. Yet, the cheer and cold drinks from Sato-san, his ability to smile in the midst of his forever-changed neighborhood, did mean so much.
We slept in quite close quarters at the Peace Boat house. Crowded, basic, but energizing to be with so many people from Japan and all over the world who showed up to be of some use.
There are many long-term volunteers who are staffing Peace Boat and keeping things running. I had the opportunity to do massage on some of the guys who haven't left. They came after the disaster and can't see the point in leaving when there is so much to be done.
Our YIS team.
A few planted grapevines and flowers. Occasional planters of annuals. These are surprising jolts of color and hope, like the first crocuses of spring in Minnesota.