Dear Eco Channel Friends,
It’s Ginger here. Last weekend I volunteered with Peace Boat as part of Team United Nations University to help clean up a debris-ridden coastal area, Kobuchihama in Ishinomaki city. Read on for more..
I received the email just as I was contemplating what I would I wear for Halloween. It was from the United Nations University and read: “Last Opportunity” in red letters followed by “Volunteer Trip to Tohoku Affected Area.” Hmmm, I looked at the two costume choices I had, either a pirate outfit that came with a cheap styrofoam sword and some shoe polish to black out a tooth, or a very unconvincing gypsy getup that didn’t excite me in the least. It was a no-brainer, I quickly wrote to the organizer,Dr. Akhilesh Surjan from the United Nations University, that I'd be on the bus Friday evening, that heads up to the Peace Boat facility in Ishinomaki with the 36 other volunteers.
When I got on the bus, I was pleasantly surprised to see it filled with volunteers of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. Many were from the United Nations University and related groups, and included family members and friends. At 6:02am, we arrived in Ishinomaki at the Peace Boat base, which is Kaska Fashion, a two-story building, which used to be a clothing warehouse. After setting up our “space” which just meant throwing down your sleeping bag, we geared up and went to our group meeting.
After the ritual morning exercise with lively background music and all, it was decided that our group would head to Kobuchihama, a fishing port about an hour away by bus that had been badly damaged by the tsunami. It had been worked on by other volunteers for weeks and this would be the final day of clean up. Our main group leader, Asuka said, "This place was destroyed by the tsunami and we've been working at it. It looks a lot better, but there's still work to do. This is our last day of work and we'd like you to think about those people who are returning here, those returning to their home. It will be unsettling for them to come back to this area with it still covered in debris. Please do your best."” What she said had made an impact and I looked at the volunteers next to me and we exchanged nods, as that was all the motivation we needed to get going.
The hour bus ride provided views of the devastated city, which helped me re-grasp what I had seen for myself just over a month ago. Images of the tsunami sweeping over the city came to mind as I stared at the window, looking at the desolate land with many tilted homes with the lower floors completely demolished and the foundations of buildings swept away. The bus was quiet although we were all thinking the same thing; how terrible and frightening it must have been on March 11th.
We got to the Kobuchihama, our clean up site, and were told a few things that raised a few eyebrows, by our team leader Askua:
1) If you get bit by a snake, I’ll take you to a hospital
2) If you get punctured by a nail, you might get tetanus, so I’ll take you to a hospital
3) The tide comes in between 2-3pm, it’ll flood so be ready to work hard until then
4) Be careful and work hard
Hmmm, I couldn’t help but ask. “Excuse me, what do you mean the tide comes in?” I asked with a lot of curious volunteers listening intently, also wanting to know the answer. She told us the ground had literally sunk half a meter or more in some places due to the earthquake and would flood our clean-up site. The bus would not be able to get through the water, so it would park on a hill and wait for us there.(Ginger with Peace Boat team leader Asuka.)
From a distance, the area we were assigned to clean up looked okay. But upon closer examination, we could see that a lot of little items from plastic bags, and broken bottles to caps, to larger things like sludge-soaked tatami, fiber-glass boat pieces and wooden planks were strewn around the area, deep into the surround forest covered in sludge. Some of the items that got my attention: a new cassette tape from the 1980s still covered in plastic, a woman’s hand mirror, and a plastic hair barrette with an elephant on it.
And that’s when they appeared! Those short hard plastic tube parts, which I had seen before and picked up at least 300 (lost count!) of last time I was in Ishinomaki, were starting to surface.I couldn't contain my curiosity and asked, "Excuse me, does anyone know what these are?"No one knew, but next to it lie a string of large shells, maybe 40 or so knotted together, similar to a giant necklace. One of my teammates who had come all the way from Osaka to volunteer, told me the stringed shells were used to breed oysters and that’s when it all made sense. Each shell and knot was a short piece of hard plastic tubing, just like the ones I had seen littered all over Nagahama beach just a month ago. The ones we found then were brand new and we had concluded just by the sheer number of them, they must have been a bulk shipment lost at sea for some medical parts firm. We were wrong, but I felt a sense of satisfaction to know the truth to that little mystery.
We used baskets with handles on the sides, the same ones used by fisherman to load sludge-covered debris. The big debris on the surface had been picked up weeks ago and we were pulling at deep-rooted fishing nets, car parts, and boat pieces that was lodged so deep in the soil that it required many hands and tools to cut them out.Volunteers I had just met less than 12 hours before helped me lift heavy debris-filled baskets, which we carried over sinking planks as the tide came in to the dump sight.
As the tide came in, we called it a day. I walked through the water in my high rubber boots and looked back at the affected site that we had worked on, hoping that one day it would look and feel like home again to the locals here.
Now for this week’s video features the “Tohoku Unity Project”
Tohoku Unity Project(Green Style Japan)
a recovery-assistance effort, which combines the resources of 60 firms and organizations to help provide sustainable energy in disaster-hit areas.
Thanks for staying tuned. See you next week!