A Surprise Amidst the Rubble: Looking at Volunteers in Japan

Associate Director Brandon Gilvin is in Japan this week as part of an ecumenical delegation monitoring our relief efforts in the country. He sends back this report and story:

Amidst the rubble, you always find surprises.

A child’s toy, a family photograph, an eight track tape last played decades ago.

Surprises that add up to tell the story of someone’s life.

That’s what three international volunteers for Peace Boat, a Church World Service/Week of Compassion partner responding to the tsunami effort in Ishinomaki, Japan, found themselves reflecting on.

Ishinomaki sits along the northwest coast of Japan, and was devastated by the March 11 tsunami that hit the coast. Water rushed in two kilometers from where the tide normally hits, wreaking havoc, destroying businesses, houses, and lives, leaving layers of muck, waste, and devastation. Three months later, the devastation remains vast. However, thanks to the Courageous Compassion of all of you who have contributed to this response, there are surprising signs of new life amidst the muck and heartache.

Affectionately called ”Junior” since he worked alongside his father in responding to the earthquake that struck Kobe, Japan in 1995, Peace Boat Project Manager Yamamoto Takashi is on a mission. Since Peace Boat set up its response effort in Ishinomaki, almost 3000 volunteers from both Japan and the international community have contributed more than 25,000 working days to the relief effort. They have fed the displaced, helped fisherman repair their nets and boats, cleaned the remaining houses in the area, helped clean up temporary housing for those transitioning out of emergency shelters, and have even hosted a rock band that peppers its sound with the traditional music of Ishinomaki.

As we stand in a particularly devastated area of Ishinomaki where empty lots stand as ghostly reminders of houses that once stood, and a ruined school and devastated cemetery fill out the backdrop, I marvel aloud about the power of water. How it can break steel. How it can break hearts.

Junior’s response was to nod.

“It is hard to believe,” he tells me. “I grew up with images of the nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sometimes I think that it is what I am seeing when I look around. I know it’s not, but it is hard to believe.”


Following the March 11 tsunami,Week of Compassion not only received generous gifts from so many of you, but we were inundated with emails, notes, and other messages:
“I wish I could volunteer.”
“I just want to give all of Japan a hug.”
“What more can I do?”

Truly, the thing that makes the most difference is your generosity. Without your gifts, the relief effort could not have come to fruition. It is your support that has helped make the volunteer efforts of Peace Boat possible, and brought life back to communities like Ishinomaki. Your support has been the backbone of this response, just as the supply of volunteers has provided its hands and feet.

You have helped provide a place for someone like Seiko to volunteer. A Japanese woman who had been working in Burkina Faso but who came back to her home country to volunteer, Seiko has found herself inspired by the local people she has worked alongside as they have provided the displaced with foods and other supplies. The heart and hope of those literally looking out for their neighbors became precious, surprising gifts.

“I feel like I want to help them more,” Seiko says.  “As much as possible.”

What a gift—what a surprise--to find among a town turned to rubble. 

Gifts to the Compassion Response Fund help us respond to disasters—large and small—quickly and in a flexible, efficient way. To contribute today, follow this link.

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Japan, earthquake/tsunami
Georgia, resettled refugee assistance
Michigan, mission station support
Kentucky, flood relief
U.S., Missouri River System Floods

Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
Croatia, women's empowerment and peace-building