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Posts Tagged: Japan Tsunami

Japan – A Lasting Impact

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Tamera and Loc Check Presentation

Mr. Yasuyuki Sugiura, President of The Nippon Club, presenting AHV with a check for our Oklahoma relief efforts.

We did not know, when we landed in Japan a few short days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, the lasting impact our experiences there would have on us, and the work we were doing over two years later and half-way around the world in central Oklahoma, US.

After Mayor Kimiaki Toda of Ofunato, a coastal city of 50,000 in the Iwate Prefecture, invited All Hands into the community, we established Project Tohoku on April 12, 2011, and worked with community members to muck and gut homes and businesses, clean out a fish factory (that was a dirty and smelly job!), clear drainage systems, restore treasured family photos – and do anything else that needed to be done.

Over seven months, 12,000 people helped, and more than 1,000 volunteers from 34 countries later, we completed Project Tohoku. It was bittersweet to leave a community we cared deeply about and the people we had worked side-by-side with for many months, but we left knowing that we had helped Ofunato make significant strides in its recovery. We also knew that we had the full support of the Ofunato community to move on and serve others in need via major responses in the Philippines and the US.

Although our ties to Ofunato and the people of Japan are strong, never did we anticipate the ways those ties would manifest in support of our response to the tornadoes in and around Moore, OK in May of this year – just over two years after the earthquake and tsunami hit their own communities, the people of Japan were giving back in a big way.

Following the devastating tornadoes on May 19th and 20th, one of our All Hands assessment teams was quickly deployed to the area, and we established Project Moore a few days later on May 29, 2013.

Our friends in Japan – many in honor of the work we had done in Ofunato, and wanting to help the US people as they had been helped after the earthquake and tsunami – rushed in to support Project Moore and the Oklahoma recovery efforts.

A few months prior, in February 2013, All Hands received a very generous donation from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York, Inc. (JCCI) and The Nippon Club for our Superstorm Sandy response. JCCI members, as residents of New York and surrounding areas, were themselves dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and they wanted to find a way to support the recovery efforts. Based on our work on Project Ofunato and our ties to Japan, JCCI identified All Hands and, through their donation, contributed to initial debris clearing, mucking and gutting – and later, mold treatment – for over 400 homes and families in both the Long Island and Staten Island areas.

After the Moore, OK area tornadoes struck, JCCI once again reached out to All Hands to support our Oklahoma recovery efforts – even though they had limited connection to Oklahoma themselves, it was important for JCCI to continue to give back to communities, like their own, that had been devastated by natural disasters.

Equally remarkable was a gift from Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives) and 47 of its partner organizations. After hearing a speech given by former Ambassador to Japan John Roos at a conference in Morioka, the members of Keizai Doyukai raised $30,000 for relief efforts in Oklahoma to honor the support from the United States in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In conjunction with Ambassador Roos’ speech to the 1,000 top Keizai Doyukai executives who were present, and because Ambassador Roos volunteered on Project Tohoku, Keizai Doyukai chose to support All Hands.

And in one of the most inspiring and heartfelt examples of the people of Japan wanting to give back by supporting tornado recovery efforts in Oklahoma, a number of companies and individuals went to the US Embassy to find out how they could contribute. Hideko Oikawa, of Oikawa Denim – a jeans company that was washed away by the 2011 tsunami, was one of those. Since the tsunami, Ms. Oikawa has played an instrumental role in helping the residents of Japan return to normalcy. She, along with others in her community, pooled funds and arrived at the US Embassy with cash in hand, ready to donate. The embassy, which cannot accept donations, suggested supporting an organization like All Hands – organizations they knew had worked in Japan in 2011 and which were also working in Oklahoma in response to the tornadoes.

Thank you to all of our friends and supporters from Japan – including JCCI, The Nippon Club, Keizai Doyukai, and all of the people who went to the US Embassy wanting to give back – who make it possible for All Hands to serve communities around the world who have been impacted by natural disasters!


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Mural, Photos And More In Iwate

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Mural, Photos And More In Iwate

Anyone who has volunteered on an All Hands project knows that we thrive on the hardest, dirtiest jobs. Whether it’s from mucking out canals or swinging sledgehammers, the end of a day on project usually comes with aching muscles and a thick layer of dirt and sweat. But Project Tohoku has presented some unique opportunities for other types of jobs with a little less of the macho factor that are nonetheless just as important to the people of Ofunato. Here are a few examples of the softer side of All Hands.

Photo Cleaning in Rikuzentakata

When asked what they would first save from a burning house, most people said they would have saved their photographs. Unfortunately, many residents did not have enough time to collect their family’s albums when evacuating from the surging tsunami waters. Photos and other mementos found in the wreckage have been turned in to the authorities and stored at a local collection point. In cooperation with local volunteers and the city of Rikuzentakata, All Hands Volunteers have been working for nearly four months to restore these precious memories to their owners.
The volunteers first sort through the photos to find salvageable ones for cleaning. The photos are carefully removed from the albums and each one is cleaned by hand and hung to dry. Photos from albums are then put back into new, clean albums and sent to a “library” run by city volunteers where locals can look through them to find their lost photos and albums. Most people who visit the photo library find at least one photo, and some find many albums. To date, volunteers have cleaned well over 100,000 photos and restored countless of other valued possessions. With many photos still remaining untouched, All Hands is training local volunteer groups so this important work can continue.

Photo Rescue

In addition to the photo cleaning service, Project Tohoku is also running a photo restoration service where tsunami victims can bring in their most important photos that are damaged. These photos are cleaned, scanned, and sent out to a network of photo retouchers around the world. To date, over 300 photos have been restored and returned to 85 grateful families.

Food and Household Goods Distribution

Most tsunami victims who lost their homes are now living in temporary housing provided by the Japanese government. Many of them have also lost most of their possessions as well as their livelihoods and are in need of on-going assistance. To help with this, All Hands has distributed non-perishable food items and household goods to over 3000 families living in temporary housing. A typical package for a family includes nutritious items like cans of tuna, salmon and corn, dinner mixes and household items like toilet paper and regular tissue. Winter kits that contained a yutanpo (hot water bottle) and other winter-related items were also distributed for each family member of a household.

Shopping Services

One of the many challenges temporary housing residents face is their disability to carry out daily tasks like grocery shopping due to the lost of their vehicles and their new communities not being on a bus route. Project Tohoku has been operating a shuttle bus that takes mostly elderly residents to a department store and grocery store twice per week, so they can stock up on supplies. One resident said that the shuttle has been a tremendous help and they really rely on it, and she will be very sad to see it end.

Fujiwara Rice Harvesting

In rural Japan, it is common for a family to grow their own rice for the year in a few small paddies. This year, the Fujiwara rice cooperative and its 60 members found themselves severely short-staffed during harvest time. Volunteers assisted the cooperative with harvesting, processing, bagging and delivering fresh rice to all 60 of its members’ families.

Painting a Barber Shop

All Hands volunteers also helped Japanese artist, Kensuke Miyazaki, paint a cheerful mural on all four walls and roof of a hilltop barber shop. The Shimizu family, owners of the newly reconstructed Barber shop, hopes that this colourful little shop can bring joy and inspiration to their devastated community. The Ofunato mural shows people from around the world delivering presents and bears the slogan “Let’s Go Hand in Hand Ofunato”.

We still love the dirty jobs, but it goes to show that you don’t have to get physical to help out after a disaster.

To support the communities where All Hands helps, please donate today.

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Keeping Residents Warm In Japan

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Keeping Residents Warm In Japan

Smitty packs hot water bottles into winter kits

There’s no sugarcoating it: Tohoku is cold. In this remote, mountainous region of Northern Japan, winter is fast approaching and temperatures will soon drop below freezing. Tohoku residents are hardy folks, and were generally well prepared for the harsh winter season with insulated houses, an assortment of warm blankets and clothes, and ubiquitous kerosene heaters. This year, however, much of that has been lost to the tsunami and thousands of survivors will be passing the winter in government-built temporary homes – sturdy, comfortable structures, but many residents fear that the thinly insulated walls won’t be enough once the temperatures drop.

Yukiko and Wada-san unload the truck

Volunteer Yukiko Yoshida, from Kobe, Japan, recognized this looming need and decided she could do something about it. Yukiko consulted with temporary housing residents and determined that hot water bottles were a commonly requested item. These simple devices are popular in Japan where they are seen as an ecologically friendly way to keep warm. Leveraging the success of our previous food distributions, we submitted the idea to Seiyu (Departmental store owned by Wal-Mart Stores) , who graciously donated JPY 8,000,000 (USD 105,000) towards a shopping spree for relief goods.

With the items on the way, Yukiko made an ambitious plan to package hot water bottles into winter kits with other useful items like hand warmers, cleaning supplies and food, and distribute them to every single temporary housing resident in the twin cities of Ofunato and Rikuzentakata. That’s nearly 10,000 people in total, living in 4000 households, in 100 separate housing communities spread over hundreds of square kilometers!

This lofty goal would require careful planning and execution. With military-like precision, Yukiko mobilized a fleet of vehicles – from scooters to a 2-ton box truck and groups of volunteers to pack, transport and deliver winter kits to grateful evacuees. In just two weeks, every last hot water bottle was distributed.

Thanks to Yukiko’s efforts, 10,000 area residents will have something warm to curl up with this winter during the cold Tohoku nights.

To support the communities where All Hands helps, please donate today.

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6 Months Of Project Tohoku

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6 Months Of Project Tohoku

The sprawling coastal city of Ofunato, with an ageing population of 40,000 and a third of its homes damaged or destroyed, had a clear need for additional volunteer labor to work alongside the city’s cleanup and recovery efforts. Following approval from the Mayor of Ofunato, we opened our doors on April 12th to eager volunteers from around the world. Six months on, with over 1,000 volunteers from 33 countries, with over 65,000 hours of volunteer service contributed to the local community efforts, we can reflect on the contribution we’ve made to the colossal efforts by the city and people of Ofunato.

In April, homes and businesses were filled with debris.As the debris has been removed, and treasured possessions recovered, skilled volunteers removed damaged floors, walls and ceilings of more than 125 homes and businesses, removing the burden of initial steps of the repair process from overburdened carpenters. Our volunteers delivered over 82,000 specially requested food items, supplementing evacuation centres’ food supplies, by slotting in to established SDF delivery routes. Cash grants for building materials and professional labor have helped 36 families move back home. We’ve cleaned close to 100,000 salvaged photos and digitally retouched 300+ water-damaged photos returned precious memories to dozens of families. At the request of the city of Ofunato our volunteers cleared miles of clogged municipal drainage canals, avoiding flooding during winter. We are also rehabilitating one of the only publics parks that the city hasn’t repurposed for temporary housing, so local children can have a safe environment in which to play. The diversity of work speaks to the widespread need confronting communities up and down the North East coast of Japan.

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In six months, the Japanese government has constructed nearly 50,000 temporary homes and cleared over 11 million tonnes of debris countrywide. According to the Mayor of Ofunato, every piece of debris in the city had been touched; either cleared, demolished, chopped up, or relocated for sorting. With local carpenters now finished constructing temporary housing, repairs and rebuilding have started in earnest, and more local businesses open each week.

Even with this impressive progress, full recovery is still years away. All Hands Volunteers is well positioned and committed to continued support of this region through this year and beyond. A smaller, more focused group of volunteers are present until 12th November, after which, we’ll roll out a longer term recovery strategy, designed to meet the needs of affected communities and industry. We’ll continue to rehabilitate public parks and sports fields, fund the restocking of school libraries, and support the rebuild of infrastructure.

A special thanks to the remarkable people of Ofunato, whose resilience, generosity, and kind words of encouragement provide ample motivation to work hard each day. Thank you also to all our supporters who have helped make our work possible. We continue to accept donations


Japan: Project Tohoku Photo Rescue Program

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The tsunami of unspeakable proportions which followed the 11th March 9.0 magnitude earthquake, destroyed livelihoods, homes, possessions and history. As people fled for high ground, often the last thing they tried to save and the first thing they went back to salvage were their photographs.

Sadly, among the most common personal items we find on our work sites are these irreplaceable images of people’s past.  What remains today are thousands of partially damaged or lost photos.

But one of our volunteers has a plan.  She has a special skill.  She also has a worldwide network of friends and colleagues who are joining forces to support her, and to support Japan.  From this one volunteer came the most recent and diverse program to be added to the work of All Hands Volunteers on Project Tohoku.

Becci has made a living editing photos and retouching them for some of the world’s most prestigious photographers.  With a passion for images that few can rival, she has created a program to restore photos damaged by the wave that crashed across the north eastern shore of Japan. Becci and her global network of retouchers are volunteering to restore hundreds of these damaged photos.

The work is inspiring.  The results of some of the world’s top retouchers is impossibly good. This program reaches from Australia to Turkey, the US to the UK, and New Zealand to Japan. The list of remote volunteers stands at 235 from 20 different countries. Over 220 priceless family photos have been retouched to either perfect or near perfect condition, graciously accepted by nearly 60 families. On site in Ofunato, dozens of volunteers have meticulously cleaned some 70,000 dirty photos.

For the elderly people of Tohoku, with images pre-dating digital technology, this service is simply amazing, almost impossible.  These were the photos that told the stories of their lives. Despite being severely scratched and water damaged, the skill of these retouchers is able to retouch many of them back to their original state.

We pay tribute to the impact a single volunteer can make, starting something so spectacular, simply by doing what she does.  We thank you, Becci, and we thank the world wide network of volunteers that have agreed to lend their time and talent to this most worthy of causes.



Japan: Ofunato’s Tanabata Summer Festival

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Ofunato’s Tanabata Summer Festival

It’s festival season in Japan, but most of the areas affected by the earthquake and Tsunami in March have had to cancel the celebrations this year, and many other areas have also cancelled them out of respect for the victims. But the residents of Sakari-cho-machi, the town in Ofunato where the All Hands Tohoku Project is based, made the decision to hold their annual Tanabata festival. Residents felt they should hold their festival because they were one of the few areas able to do so, and that holding it would build community spirit and give everyone a chance to celebrate the progress that has already been made towards recovery. One resident said the festival was a chance for her to see many acquaintances that she hadn’t been able to contact since the tsunami and see that they were safe.

Sakari’s Tanabata festival was held on August 6th and 7th. Different areas in Japan have very different traditional ways of practicing their summer festivals. Sakari celebrates Tanabata with parades of floats decorated and operated by the residents of the various sections of the town. Children play a large role in the float-making and parade, with increasing responsibilities as they get older. The pictures decorating the floats are chosen, and drawn or painted by the children themselves. During the parade, the youngest children help pull the float, the older children are in charge of the candles inside the float and play the drums and flutes, and the oldest children and adults sit on top of the float with poles to move decorations and power lines out of the float’s path.

Brendan, Alan, and Toby decorate Tanabata lanterns.

This year, All Hands volunteers had the honor of participating in many of the festival preparations and the parade, as well as dancing while wearing yukata (summer kiminos). During the week leading up to Tanabata weekend volunteers, who had spent their day doing things like digging mud and rubble out of ditches or installing plumbing, spent their evenings making street decorations or preparing floats.

The turnout for the festival was higher this year, with many people who usually skip it actually joining both days, and residents from neighboring towns even joining. All Hands volunteers say the town seems busier since Tanabata. The celebration seems to have cheered residents and assured them life is slowly returning to normal.

Grace joins nearly 40 volunteers to partake in the dancing portion of Tanabata.

The respect and appreciation from the Ofunato community for the work that All Hands members have been doing was made very clear during the festival weekend. Many volunteers were invited not only to help pull the floats, but also to participate in them. Many played the instruments and even more took the role at the top of the floats moving electrical wires and decorations out of the way. This role is something that typically takes a local person 10 years of participation in Tanabata festivals to attain. Along with this, volunteers and locals enjoyed a plentiful supply of lagers and other refreshments and many delicious snacks and meals.

Wada-San teaches Janine to play the festival’s traditional song.

The strong sense of community in Ofunato was displayed in the festivities with children, adults and the elderly and disabled persons all included in the events. Being a part of this experience gave volunteers a true sense of belonging within the community. Floats that the volunteers were pulling were also decorated with messages of appreciation to the All Hands community for their hard work and dedication to Japan.

The bravery, hard work and spirit of giving from the All Hands volunteers was repeatedly expressed as having inspired local people to return and/or stay within the Ofunato region. There’s a growing belief that their lives, homes, and businesses can be rebuilt. It is our hope and now the city’s sense that there will be a bright future for all of the people here.

Jennifer helps clear power lines on her float – smiling all the way.

You can view all of our photos and videos on Flickr .
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Jennifer Neilson and Dhaniella Iris are volunteers on Project Tohoku. Jennifer lends her strong affinity for Japan, the Japanese culture, and the Japanese language. To learn more about Project Tohoku, All Hands’ tsunami response project, please click here.




Japan: Life on Project Tohoku

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Life on Project Tohoku


World's most loveable man, Mike, and the overly photograghed Vince chill along Akasaki Highway.

Working alongside a team of 30-100 volunteers is an experience in itself.  Meeting and working with people from all walks of life has a way of reinvigorating the human spirit.  For many in the All Hands network, the volunteer side of the story is a great source of stories and lasting memories.  The All Hands Volunteer network in Japan currently spans nearly 30 countries, five continents, and a whole lot of enthusiasm.

The amenities in Project Tohoku are as good as you could ever expect given the devastation in which we’re working.  We have regular, albeit limited, shower use; we are really well fed; and we enjoy comfortable living conditions.  The typical day here starts with an unofficial wake up call between 6 and 7am for breakfast, which usually includes some combination of toast, oatmeal, and plenty of coffee.

The volunteers come together in the Sakari base to meet the team leaders and review their jobs.  Once the teams collect the necessary tools for the day they either walk to their job site or catch a ride in one of our two transport buses.  Around 8:15 the team of dedicated volunteers head off to do their best to help return Ofunato to a liveable state.

Meanwhile, back at the base a team of staff and volunteers keep the crews supplied, coordinated, and (possibly) most importantly, fed.  Lunch consists of a local ‘bento box’ delivered to the base, brought out to the teams for their much-anticipated 12 o’clock lunch break.  Given the widespread devastation and loss of facilities, lunch is always great.

The work itself has varied from the muckiest of mud to the driest of drywall.  We have worked meticulously to remove damaged materials from salvageable homes; cleared ditches and canals that are 8+ feet deep and filled with debris and degrading fish; and we’ve spent afternoons in 2 foot gaps under homes that are filled with tsunami mud.  The work has certainly been difficult but the progress has been inspiring.

The workday ends at 4:30 and the teams make their way back to the tool shed to return equipment and gather around the base to catch up with the other volunteers.  Meanwhile, Chiba San and Konno San, local All Hands’ volunteers, have spent all afternoon preparing our food.

Grub time is around 5pm.  Chiba San and Konno San find new recipes every day and take the time and care to perfect every one.  Day after day we collectively rave about just how lucky we are to be eating such tasty and varied food. Chris then starts the nightly meeting, which is when we hear updates from the day’s work.  The team leaders give us insight into progress made and offer fun and touching anecdotes from the day.  It’s a great chance to stay connected with the efforts of all the volunteers.

After a long day’s work, most people are ready to settle down, relax, and get to bed early.  Slightly different than previous All Hands projects, Project Tohoku has the team split in two different residence halls: one at our office base in the Sakari district of Ofunato, the other at the Fukushino Sato Evacuation Center about 4km away.  So the volunteers part ways and we all enjoy our own version of floor sleeping.  For some, this is as extravagant as a queen-sized air mattress (Chris #3) while for others it’s as simple as a yoga mat (Loc).  And, as is typical in group sleeping settings, ear plugs are a must around here.

Although the work can be tiring and seemingly endless, the stories of progress and success inspire each and every one of us.  The gratitude of those we’re serving and the camaraderie of the volunteers is more than enough to energize this enthusiastic and committed group.  That’s what keeps us getting up every morning and working everyday…

Pete, Eric, Janine, Laura, Andy, Chloe, Ed, Thea, Loc, Jennifer, & Yuko enjoy a day of waste high mud water while clearing drainage canals in nearby Rikuzentakata.

Eric Zdenek is a media & communication coordinator with All Hands Volunteers. To learn more about Project Tohoku, All Hands’ tsunami response project, please click here.





Japan: Home Rehabilitation Program

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Home Rehabilitation Program

All Hands Volunteers is pleased to announce the maiden voyage of its Home Rehabilitation Program in Ofunato, Japan. A small coastal city within Iwate Prefecture, Ofunato suffered the devastation of 3,629 homes, leaving 10,000 people living in or dependent on evacuation shelters for key support services. With early assessments indicating a need for rebuilding aid, the inception of this program marks both a wonderful step toward helping people return to their homes, and a symbiotic partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Over the course of this two-month program we aim to repair 30 households in need of rehabilitation. Working closely with the local district council and community members, All Hands has identified beneficiaries in need of assistance—specifically elderly and single-headed households—willing to immediately reoccupy their homes upon completion. Aided by international, national, and local volunteers—guided by experienced Japanese carpenters—rehabilitation efforts are sympathetic to financial need, all the while upholding local building practices.

With 5 homes completed and more in progress, we proudly present a successful beginning to the rehabilitation program and hope to see our efforts add buoyancy and ballast to the community’s overall recovery.

Chugun-san and Takahashi-san work on replacing lost floorboards in Mizuno-san’s home, located in the heart of Ofunato.

Takahashi-san measures floorboard cuts to prepare the room for the finished flooring.

The team cuts floor joists as Yukiko-san (middle) jumps in on the work.

Brendan Gordon is the Home Rehabilitation Coordinator for Project Tohoku. To learn more about Project Tohoku, All Hands’ tsunami response project, please click here.





Japan: Salvaging Valuables and Respecting Wishes

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Volunteer Perspective: Respecting Wishes and Salvaging Valuables in Ofunato, Japan

Honor. Respect. Appreciation. All prevalent components of the Japanese culture. A particular day’s work here at Project Tohoku here in Ofunato, Japan had four of us combing the contents of a building one block from the port. In this absolutely decimated area, the tsunami had washed right over the 3rd story of this building. Remnants of a printing business remained. The owner died in the tsunami.

After inspecting the building for earthquake damage, we determine it is safe to go in. Our task is on the second floor. Find salvageable printed books from four authors in order to return them to the authors. A friend of the deceased owner asked the task of All Hands. He is elderly and brings an elderly friend. Clearly, this task is not something he can accomplish on his own.

He is thankfully spending the day with us. We need his help as we identify items that he thinks the family will want. Having identified which books we were looking for, we painstakingly begin going through what was left of the tsunami-ravaged business. Imagine a room filling with water, windows broken, perhaps admitting other debris, then receding leaving nothing in its original place. No clear floor space anywhere.

Two months after the earthquake, many things on the top layer have dried. But underneath…wet. Mold. The apartment reeks. The town reeks. The stench grows as we dig deeper in the debris.

Honoring the wishes of the deceased’s friend, we slowly begin to find the books. Remove and stack them in a cleaner room. Once we are sure we have searched the entire business and recovered the books we need we move on to our next assignment…go through the owner’s apartment, also on the 2nd floor.

Becci and Kari carefully sift through possessions

Oh boy. Sad. Going through the personal effects of a life once lived. We are to look for old photos and letters. We find some. Every time I see a personal effect anywhere (usually in the debris along the sides of roads) I pause and try to reflect on the life that once possessed it. It’s a grounding thing for me. Reminds me why I’m here to begin with.

We gingerly go through the apartment contents with respect. Our team of four includes a Japanese/English speaking volunteer. We show him things we suspect may be personal. Slowly we dig to the floor. Photos are unearthed. Letters too. And some sort of hand-written journal dated 1957.

At lunch, we ascend to the roof and decide to eat there. This is mountainous part of the country. Gorgeous. The juxtaposition between mother nature’s ability to provide such beauty and to annihilate it at the same time is…hard to understand. Look down and see towns wiped off the map. Look up and see 100 shades of green as spring envelopes the mountains. On the last step before going out to the roof, we find a wind-up, portable radio. Geez. Was the owner trying to use this when the tsunami came in?

We complete this job in a day. The owner’s friend is so grateful and appreciative of the work we’ve done that he wants to take us to dinner. We respectfully decline. We are dirty and won’t get a shower until late. He keeps insisting. We finally figure out that we can go to dinner on our day off and make plans. There are eight of us including the owner’s friends, the All Hands volunteers, our base translator, and our two (awesome!) base cooks who all seem to know each other.

The conversation ranges from how old we are to what everyone does for a living to American politics. Fascination and appreciation over the fact that we came from America, England, and Canada to help their country. Good food; saki and beer. Engaging conversation. I reflect more. Brought together by honoring the dead and the volunteers’ commitment to a foreign land. Respecting each other, the culture of another land and the possessions of the deceased. Showing appreciation for a job well done. Feels like Japan to me.

View from the building’s rooftop

Kari Gang is a two-time All Hands Volunteer. To learn more about Project Tohoku, All Hands’ tsunami response project, please click here.





Japan: Cleaning Hirota High School

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Hirota High School Debris Removal and Sanitization Project

Until two months ago, students at Rikuzentakata’s Hirota High School were taking classes ranging from science to fishing and food preparation. At the entrance of the vocational school, less than one kilometer from the coast, hung a large sign: “Three lessons of the sea: Do not fear the sea. Do not take the sea for granted. Do not go against the sea.”

The city of Rikuzentakata, home to 23,000 people, had more than 3,600 homes destroyed, in addition to schools and businesses. Hirota High School was inundated with two meters of water flooding all first floor classrooms. Students were then relocated to a temporary building in nearby Ofunato.

When All Hands first met with the high school’s director, many of the buildings were still filled to the ceiling with mud and debris. Though all of the campus’ eight buildings were damaged, most were structurally sound and staff were eager to clean up.

Twenty All Hands volunteers arrived on site armed with shovels, wheelbarrows and scrub brushes. The team led by volunteer Brett focused on salvaging usable furniture and equipment. They hauled, scrubbed, and sanitized everything from tables and chairs to memorabilia and classroom supplies, filling one of the school’s large classrooms with usable materials.

With the larger objects out of the way, the team began the daunting task of removing mud, debris, and dead fish from nearly twenty classrooms, a gym, an auditorium, and the hallways of the school. Brett was leading an ambitious, passionate, and committed team.  Volunteers listened intently in the evening meeting as he recounted major accomplishments of moving cars by hand, clearing and cleaning massive rooms and ripping away mangled roof structures.

Marc Young, All Hands Volunteers’ Director of Operations, joined the work force to help remove a car that had lodged itself in the school’s courtyard, balancing precariously on a fuel container. Despite the difficulty of the work, with the team’s commitment to getting the job done, progress was made at an inspiring pace.

The school’s administration came to visit as volunteers put the final touches on the buildings, mopping one last time and covering shattered windows with tarpaulin. They had initially been skeptical of volunteer groups, but they were impressed by the quality of the volunteers’ work.

Rikuzentakata still struggles to find sufficient storage space for much needed relief supplies. Many schools are being used to house evacuees and to distribute items such as food, blankets, water and clothing. Although the Hirota Campus will not immediately be put back to use for students, it will be made available to the city’s bank of evacuation centers to assist the community.

The volunteers’ hard work and attention to detail have helped make this enormous job possible. Thank you to all who were involved.

Jess Van Ness is a project coordinator with All Hands Volunteers. To learn more about Project Tohoku, All Hands’ tsunami response project, please click here.