Japan Relief Trip
April 24-May 1, 2011
On March 11th the world’s 5th largest earthquake since the 1900’s struck Japan. Within minutes, a massive tsunami followed the earthquake, tearing through the country’s coastline and leaving devastation in its wake. As news and video showed the magnitude of the disaster, the RELIEF Foundation became fully mobilized and started gathering supplies and donations. On April 25th the first group of RELIEF volunteers headed to the coastal towns of Japan to deliver these supplies to those who need them most.
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The Fukishima Di Achi II nuclear power plant was directly in the tsunami’s path and sustained heavy damage that would eventually cause a grade 7 nuclear meltdown. There was great concern over the amount of nuclear radiation exposure that a volunteer would be exposed to while working in Japan. A lot of people were scared about the radiation, including myself. But the more I researched, the more I discovered that the amount I would be exposed to was less than the actual flight to and from Japan or when I receive an X-Ray. Furthermore, each member of the trip was given radiation badges donated by St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in NYC.
Two days before departure the Relief Foundation was planning on volunteering in Choshi, Japan; however, a sudden surge of volunteers arrived and within a week the area that was well on its way to being cleaned. One amazing part about the Japanese government is that their preparation for a disaster. Each Providence has a plan set forth in case a natural disaster did occur and which donations would be needed. Once the disaster struck, instantly these companies and firms donated what they said they would and within two days, a lot of the areas had aid.
Arriving in Japan the Relief Foundation first headed north to Hitachi where a refugee camp has been set up for those either too close to the reactor or whose home had been destroyed by the tsunami. Inside a highschool several hundred families now called this home. While walking through the different levels there were children, parents, grandparents all trying to adapt. On the TV they watched as the footage from their previous home was replayed over and over. The mood however was not of dispair as would be expected. The children were off playing games and came over to introduce themselves to us. It was amazing that they knew english and spoke quite well. Since an early age they have been taught english and were ready to practice. I admired this group of people for their resolve. We asked if there were positions open for us to volunteer and instead were instructed to contact a group of volunteers outside of Nakoso, within 40 miles south of the reactor, and another group was working 20 miles south of the reactor.
Nokoso was far closer to the reactor than we had ever planned on volunteering. However, using citizen radiation readings from http://blog.safecast.org/ and with the wind blowing north of the reactor we came to a group decision that the level of radiation was negligable. We also would drive an hour south of Nokoso each night to sleep. As the group drove towards the coast we started to see some of the destruction. Deciding to split into two teams we hoped to help as much as we could to help rebuild.
Arriving in Nokoso we were greeted by a group of young women who were so excited to see us and welcomed us to the group. We met with the group leader and were introduced to the rest of the volunteers. The first day there were about 20 volunteers. We were assigned to help an elderly women whose house has been damaged by the earthquake. She was so grateful to have people helping here. She kept asking why Americans came all the way over here to Japan. For someone who had lived through World War she started crying and kept saying thank you over and over again. It was amazing to make an impact and to help with the perception of Americans globally.
Later that day we joined another group who were unclogging the drainage systems. This allowed all the sea water that had come in with tsunami to start draining back out towards the ocean. The work was rough and dirty, but so very rewarding.
The next day we were drove into the heart of the area that was devestated. The mountains on either side acted as a natural funnel for the incoming waves of the tsunami. Two story houses were engulfed by the waves and moved from their foundations. Lives were lost in that area. The reality of the situation was overwhelming.
The work for the day was to be focused on a section of the town that has sustained major damage. A street mirror captured the blue of the new beginnings while the reflection of the past was the devestation. The Japanese culture is amazing in that each person has pride in taking care of their piece of land and rebuilding if necessary. This day marked the beginning of the Golden Week. A week long break which is usually used for vacation. Today however over two hundred volunteers arrived in busses, cars, and on scooters to donate their time.
Japan is positioned on the fault line of 14 different fault lines of the “Ring of Fire.” With over 2000 earthquakes a year, the threat of a tsunami was very real, but just like in the story of the boy who cried wolf by the time the people realized it was happening it was too late for some. Over the years acres of Bamboo forests have been built on the coastline to provide a buffer against the constant threat. Now we worked to clean the bamboo of the debris that had been caught, including the top of homes. As everyone worked together side by side there were no boundries based off of color, race, nationality, or religion. This is the power of people with a single cause of helping those less fortunate.