(submitted by Helena Herzberg to meet the requirement of Community Engagement)
I spent my 2012 Easter Break cleaning up the ruins of the March 11 tsunami, instead of searching for little chocolate eggs. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip, since I got to experience something new and different in comparison to my usually uneventful holidays. Via. car my parents and I traveled up North to the City of Tono, in the Iwate Province. Tono is located 40km from the coast and 560km away from Tokyo.
Day 1 – The 6am morning exercises were followed by our individual activities. Each person was obliged to sign up for a group and activity. My mother and I decided to visit a town called “Ofunato,” where we help built a kitchen for homeless elderlies. Upon our arrival we figured that the base, walls and roof were already constructed. Our job was to build an oven and work in the garden. A few minutes into our work we met a German family that happened to live in our hometown in Germany. Our similarities enabled easy conversations and more fun.
After 6-8 hours of work we headed back to Tono. We got warm soup to eat and by 11pm we were all asleep.
Day 2 – This time my mother and I joined my father with the desire to challenge ourselves more. As a result we drive out to the fishing town Kaimishi, which used to survive mainly from its fishing and tourism. We did not spend much time there; driving around the guides told us that we could work there the next day if we wanted to.
Continuing to Tonomagokoro, a tiny town that lost about 1000 men/women and children, we drove past countless non-existent towns. It was heartbreaking to imagine what life was once apparent. When we arrived at the construction we were told to put on our gloves and separate glass from wood and wood from plastic etc. Every once in a while, I would find random shoes, toys, keys, pillow cases etc. They always brought up depressing thoughts and questions, that were however quickly suppressed. Concluding our work, we separated humongous rocks from metal polls. The effort, I admit, was very strenuous. It made me proud however, knowing that I was useful and needed.
While working we heard several stories about the town. They lost about 70% of their homes and 60% of their people. The neighbouring town was used as a garbage heap, since not enough organisations were helping to rid the trash. In addition, a class of 15-16 year olds from America visited the town in May 2011. Most of the kids were however too traumatised to return after volunteering for a few days. What I got to see was quite shocking already, therefore I am glad to not have witnessed the situation right after the catastrophe. On the upside, it seemed like the town was coming back to life a again. The buses were supposedly running again, flowers were growing and many refugees moved back into the town.
Sadly I left that evening, but I would be open to volunteering once again! It was a breathtaking experience, full with shocking experiences, which made me want to cry. It was however nice to know that one’s work was greatly appreciated.
(submitted by Kai Iwamoto to meet the requirement of Community Engagement)
Volunteers at second harvest collect food from corporations or individuals and distribute the food to those in need. They deliver food to single mother shelters, childrens homes, centers for the disabled, and also provide meals for the homeless every Saturday. This also prevents wastage of food as food banks provide an alternative to destroying food that is still safe for human consumption. 2HJ receives donations from food manufacturers, retailers and importers that have stocks of food they cannot sell. I found that this was very interesting because I had volunteered at a Soup Kitchen previously in America. However, unlike the soup kitchen, Second harvest is able to collect these items from regional companies. Second Harvest holds events every weekend where volunteers can help cook some soup and serve it to the homeless. My goal is to attend at least 5 shifts, and also go to the variety of different shifts.
November 24 :Shift 1, Soup Kitchen Preparation
December 20: Shift 1, Pantry Pick Up
March 9: Shift 2, Soup Kitchen
March 30: Shift 1, Soup Kitchen Preparation
April 6: Shift 2, Soup Kitchen
May 11: Shift 1, Soup Kitchen Preparation
May 11: Later Shift for Pantry Pick Up for Single Mothers
For Second Harvest, I have gone to an event at least once every two months. I helped out with the soup kitchen on Saturdays, however in December, I went to the food packaging event. There, we packed 255 boxes of New Years food such as noodles, soy sauce, mochi, rice, and books to 255 families up in the Tohoku area. I worked with 7 other people in Second Harvest, and we even started a chain that resembled a “mass production line” and that was very efficient.
This was a new challenge for me because of the strength and effort that it involved. I went in thinking that this would be easy, but building 255 boxes, taping them, filling them all with food, taping it closed, and then making sure each one had the correct address on it was a lot tiring than it seemed.
One thing that made this easier, was collaborating with others. I went to the first shift with a couple friends and then continued to go on these shifts with one friend the whole time. Having that friend encouraged me to keep going and made the shifts more enjoyable.
For one of the shifts, I packed food packages for the victims in Tohoku. This reminded me of many of the local implications of Tohoku. I did not think of how the victims that were effected by 3/11 were spending their holidays, so by packing the food and the games and the books it made me realize that small actions like packing food was a huge action that they were grateful for. I think that everyday, people forget to think about how enriched they are with food, belongings, and even shelter, and they do not ever think about others that are not as wealthy. Especially with international students, we are very wealthy compared to others so we must not forget to help the less fortunate.
After participating in this service for a year, I still do not know how the other countries deal with their homeless population. Even in Japan, I am only aware of the preventative actions in Tokyo. For next year, I would like to find out more on this issue and also continue to volunteer at the local Second Harvest.
Animal Relief Club
(submitted by Hiyori Takashima to meet the requirements of Community Engagement)
Every Fridays, the ARC members get together in order to discuss topics such as presentation and our adoption program We also report back to each other about what each individual sub group had been up to. I first joined this group so that I could interact with animals, and raise awareness for myself and discover what is being done to protect animals. Especially after the devastation from the March 11th earthquake, I had heard that a lot of pets were separated from their families, so I wanted to take part in whatever was done for these animals. Throughout the year, we visited the animal shelter in Tokyo several times to walk the dogs. At school, we worked individually in our sub-groups, and focused on tasks set within our groups.
By being in an events subgroup, and having to have to prepare presentations to spread awareness amongst the community, this gave me the opportunity to also learn from the research done as well. I read up on different rules within Japan and everything that this country does against stray dogs etc. I also realized how much I love animals and cared about them, especially after the many visits to the shelters.
A new challenge for me was I think the group idea exchanging sessions, especially during the sub group meetings, because I thought it was hard to think up of events or ideas based on dog shelter rescues or general animal protection. First I had thought, “there’s nothing we can do that will have a significant effect on the rest of the population” but then I realised that by doing what we do in this group, we help the people within that small community, either school or the volunteer group’s members. Once I got the hang of it, it was easier to think of ideas or suggestions as to what to do.
Planned and Initiated Activities:
Within the events sub group, we first started out planning for a booth for food fair, yet we did not have enough time to have everything set up, with effective presentation methods. Eventually though, our group moved towards starting an adoption program for the YIS families, and so I think I contributed with ideas when developing ideas and methods for this adoption program. I really hope that next year, since I was in the group that initiated this, I will be able to continue to build this program up so that more dogs will be able to find families. Also with my ability to speak fluently in both Japanese and English, I will be able to help the group out when in need.
In order to create ideas and establish the adoption program, we had to cooperate with each other and exchange opinions. During instances where we had to prepare for presentations, we worked collaboratively, and split the workload up equally when needed, and all finished all that was required of us on time. When walking dogs as well, we helped out as a team, and I tried to help everyone by translating when no one was able to understand Japanese.
Perseverance and Commitment:
Perseverance and commitment was something that was not hard for me for this group, because everything that we did in ARC I enjoyed doing. Research for presentations allowed me to know more about the things I did not know before, and when it came to the visits to the shelters, I also had a lot of fun as well as learning the situations of the stray dogs. Although the shelter was far, close to ASIJ, it was very much worth the visit. Seeing the eager dogs was a happy sight, and walking them in the lovely weather with friends was definitely something I enjoyed very much.
A new skill I learned was I think interacting with animals. I loved animals, and I have always loved my friend’s dogs as if they were mine, but up until quite recently I had never had my own dog. By walking the abandoned dogs however, I was able to learn how to successfully walk them and take care of them before I got my own. Interacting with those dogs really taught me a lot about how to deal and take care of them.
Abandoning dogs is a tremendous problem, not only in Japan, but all around the world. Many dogs are killed because of the fact that they are abandoned by their owners, and so to be a part of solving this issue I thought was very important. Although what we do may not change the death rates of dogs being gassed yearly, being able to experience and witness these facts with my own eyes served as a very important experience for me. It is not something I just heard or read about, but it is not something I had experienced, and therefore means more to me.
When visiting the shelters, I realised how bad of a condition the dogs had to be kept in. Their cages were very small, and the sanitation was very minimal. All very survivable, but in poor conditions. Although the volunteers are trying as hard as they can, there is simply no space for them and it sounds and smells outrageous inside. I thought then, is it really okay to have these dogs in these conditions? I understand that there is no source of income to better these animals’ lives therefore their living space ends up the way it is. To begin with though, the owners that abandoned their dogs in the first place led to something like this happening, so this made me question the ethical aspect of these owners. They should have been responsible for their pets until the very end, yet so many are there at the shelter without a home.
Next year, I still hope to take part in ARC. I would like to push to kickstart this newly suggested adoption program. As a dog owner myself, it really does make a difference having a dog in the family. Just the mere presence can be such a stress relief, and so I would like to spread and share this with the YIS community. The adoption program could be very beneficial for both the owners and the dogs, so I hope to take part in a leadership position to make this happen at YIS.