Volunteering in Tohoku, with AFJ & IMA

Rohini Deblaise, West Tokyo JALT

From 1 to 5, to 20, to 40, to full busloads, our volunteer teams to Tohoku have grown. Nearly every two weeks, since Golden week, my husband and I have been spearheading international teams to Ishinomaki, a city one hour north of Sendai, severely hit by the tsunami of March 11. That is the area where volunteer organizations such as JEN (Japanese Emergency NPOs), Peace Boat, and Nadia (a Canadian organization), had set up volunteer centers, and where we were first sent through JEN. Seeing the potential to facilitate a greater number of volunteers, and already being closely affiliated with the Association of French in Japan (AFJ: <www.afj-japon.org>), we put the word out through Facebook, and thus our group launched its regular treks northward.
What is it that inspires so many to set aside their busy schedules and head to that land of destruction, not just once, but again, and again? According to volunteer testimonies, and my own experience, paradoxically, when working with an amazing team, even under tough circumstances, the genuine smiles, the simple acts of kindness, and the overwhelming gratitude abound. I think many of us also feel very lucky to have the chance to give back to a country that has given us so much. Once you’ve witnessed the overwhelming havoc wreaked on Tohoku, and experienced the magic of working together and bringing hope, you too may well get hooked. Economist Nic Marks <www.ted.com> cites five ways that lead to happiness: 1. Connect; 2. Be active; 3. Take notice; 4. Keep learning; 5. Give. Oddly enough, our trips invariably involve all five of these. So is it any wonder that we keep going back?
To get a sense of this, please have a look at one of our videos. Here’s a 3-minute clip that captures it particularly well: “Ishinomaki 25-26 Juin” <www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QnzLePUrIc>.
Together with the AFJ we have become a completely international team (currently made up of about 1/3 Japanese participants, 1/3 French, and 1/3 from everywhere else). Though AFJ’s website is in French, materials in Japanese and in English are also available; details in English can be found at: <www.afj-japon.org/index.php?id=1380>.
Based in the Volunteer Center (Ishinomaki Shiritsu Minato Shogakko), our work involves clearing the sludge and debris from houses, businesses, and ditches, or wherever our teams are locally sent.
We also regularly work with an amazing, near-full-time volunteer, Dean Newcombe, to collect and distribute supplies and food. Fate led us down a similar path as his group, IMA <www.intrepidmodeladventures.com>, when we recognized both tremendous needs, and the ability to address some of those needs by collecting household appliances from the many foreigners who left Japan after the quake. Joining efforts with his team has inspired and enabled us to contribute more, and do so with his contagious can do spirit. Now known affectionately as the “Pirate of Peace,” (or “Ninja Santa,” as I like to call him) he has modeled the ability to work knowledgably, directly, and efficiently with the locals, all the while inspiring countless smiles wherever he goes. 100% of his collections go straight to those in need, and so far to date, he has single-handedly collected 2,300,000 yen to purchase sorely needed supplies, such as fruits & vegetables, and unreservedly dispersed hugs to the people in and around Ishinomaki.
Official Tohoku FB page: <www.facebook.com/IntrepidModelAdventures>
Also of interest may be the blog account from a regular participant, Noemi: <noeminonihon.canalblog.com/archives/2011/05/30/21263163.html>.
If you wish to contribute to Dean’s efficient network, please see: <www.intrepidmodeladventures.com/?p=2579>.
Or, if you wish to join one of our upcoming trips, please contact us through AFJ at: <ishinomaki@afj-japon.org>.
Send your name, address (if possible in Japanese), cell phone, and email address.
Cost:7,000 yen for employed adults
5,000 yen for students (***sponsorship negotiable)
+ 1,400 yen for insurance, valid 1 year.
(AFJ will handle that.)
Much remains to be done. But together, we can make… Magic, and experience the Magic that Heart-Power can bring.

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