We drove out to Kamaishi again yesterday to drop off some more goods for an acquaintance and donate a few more boxes of our clothes, and then spent the day volunteering at the disaster relief headquarters.
There were plenty of volunteers that day. It was nice to see a large group of local high school students from a nearby evacuation center helping out. There were also a few uniformed Yamato Transport employees. We unloaded boxes from trucks into an enormous tent that served as a warehouse. The mountains of boxes were organized by contents and included Nissin Cup Noodle, bottled water, snacks, bread, disposable masks, toilet paper, adult diapers, moist towelettes, and various types of fuel. When smaller trucks arrived we were told how many of each box to load.
The Japanese Self Defense Forces were also there, engaged in their own work, though they sometimes joined the volunteers in unloading boxes off of trucks. I was impressed with how tough, or rather “cool” the Self Defense Forces looked. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, the SDF has been deployed in logistics and infrastructure-building operations in places like Iraq. They were clad in camouflage fatigues with combat boots and infantry helmets, but carried no weapons.
No one was clearly in charge, and no instructions were given to anyone, so we followed what the other people were doing until we got the hang of where everything belonged. There was a lot of standing around as well. We heard a couple complaints about the general lack of efficiency, but probably this was due to a shortage of outgoing trucks. Toward the late afternoon things seemed to be moving at a good speed.
The overall atmosphere was very upbeat, which might be surprising given that most of the volunteers were local and had gone through a lot during the last week. It was great to see that enormous quantities of aid are now reaching the area and that they’re not short of labor to get it sorted out. I don’t have any illusions about having “helped out” – there were already enough hands. But we were there anyways, and it was a good experience for us. I’m glad we were able to spend the day there with them. It felt good to be part of the effort and was affirming to see the high spirits even among those who had lost their school, workplace, or home to the tsunami. I hope that we have the opportunity to make another trip. We’re out of gasoline so driving is not an option, but if more buses start running we may go again.
Here in Hanamaki the City Hall has just started accepting individual donations and there may be work to be done there as well sorting them out and loading them on trucks. Also happy to hear that Habitat for Humanity will soon be taking volunteers for clearing away debris and eventually rebuilding. In the meantime we’ll keep donating monetarily and encouraging family and friends abroad to do the same.