After the opportunity to sample Sendai’s most popular dish (cow tongue) the night before, we returned to Iwanuma Monday morning for our last day of work. The volunteer centre was noticeably less busy as it was the end of the golden week holiday, and so there was plenty of work for us to do.
Our morning assignment saw us working in the relief supply warehouse getting things ready for people still living in the shelter. All of the supplies were being kept in a huge gym, as they were unable to use this same space as a shelter since it had been damaged by the earthquake. The pieces of still hanging roof tiles and a large chunk of air duct lying in the middle of the gym served as reminders of the awesome force felt here. We spent the morning shifting boxes and containers full of essential supplies of food, water, blankets, and even toilet paper, most of which were donated by various organizations and countries (thanks for the cookies Malaysia!).
After finishing up in the gym, we headed back to the volunteer centre to receive our final assignment – another trip out to the mud for more shoveling. Arriving at a large house beside what were once rice fields, we split into two groups and did our best to help the homeowners shovel out. My team spent most of our time scraping out a layer of mud from underneath the floorboards inside the house, most of the flooring having already been ripped up and thrown away. The army has already been in the area clearing out the bigger debris with their heavy equipment, but the thin layer of mud that remains everywhere is something that has to be tackled by hand, and its creep into areas like these under the floors reminded me of just how all-consuming the tsunami was.
We returned to the volunteer centre at the end of the day and said our good byes to the lovely staff working there. I wasn’t able to really talk with them, but there weren’t many foreigners volunteering there (I saw three others in the three days), and so they had begun to recognize me when we returned each morning.
These people, like many others we met volunteering were truly inspiring. We spent several days working with a man who had been evacuated from his home in a town near the Fukushima nuclear power plant. He was obviously out of work and had to leave most of his things behind in his haste to get out of the area. But rather than search out a new job and attempt to restart his own life, he had been spending several weeks volunteering in Iwanuma, sleeping in his car each night to save money.
It’s very hard to express how I feel after having come back from these experiences. I certainly find it difficult to focus on answering emails, filing in paperwork, and sitting in on meetings knowing what’s happening just a few hundred kilometers from here. But I do feel lucky to have had the opportunity to do something like this, and particularly being able to work alongside Nana while doing so. More than anything else, I’m left feeling inspired by the courage and selflessness of both those who were volunteering and those who were impacted directly by the tsunami (many of whom are one and the same). Thank you for reminding me that what is often most important in life is life itself.