Two weeks ago I went back up to the Tohoku area, this time with three of my friends. I had seen pictures and heard stories from people who had gone up after my first trip, but I was interested to see for myself the progress that had been made since I was there, only 2.5 weeks after the disaster.
The actually highways were much worse to drive on than before. The roads had buckled under the pavement in areas all along the Tohoku and Sanriku Expressways from the initial 9.0 earthquake and then even more after the 7.4 aftershock in April. I think all the heavy trucks and traffic on these areas just made the roads wear faster. Needless to say, save admission on the amusement park tickets and just drive up to Northern Japan.
We were gone a total of four days –– two for traveling and two for actual work days. We met up the the same group I had worked with before, BeOne. They have been on the ground since the beginning and really know the areas needs and have established connections with some of the local people. While there we worked with a couple from the United States (they were actually gymnastics coaches from the Charlotte, NC area!), an American who is now living in Singapore, a Japanese woman from Osaka, another guy from California, an American boy who has lived in Japan his whole life and a guy from New Zealand. We were joined by a young woman, Maya, who actually lives in the area.
On the first morning when driving to the disaster area of Ishinomaki, I kept thinking how much had been done, yet how little. In many ways it seems like some areas had stuffed just moved from one place to another. Some areas were totally untouched. Cars were still everywhere. Some places the people cleaned up around their own house, yet all around them lies complete carnage. In one location the ground actually sunk, so at high tide everyday water flows into the roads and houses. And the smell. Imagine two month old stagnant water with rotting fish.
This trip consisted of doing supply drops and then working in those areas. Over the course of two days we did two food and supply drops, cleaned out a drainage system at a house, cleared dirt from the crawl space of a house, cleared mud from a house and garden area, and moved debris from a small swing set area so kids could come and play.
Besides doing manual labor and meeting the people physical needs, we also tried to meet their emotional needs. We talked with the people, listened to their stories and played with the children. I think in many ways this was more important than the actual work we were doing.
I have a hard time putting how this whole experience has affected me to "paper". My heart still aches and I think it will for a long time. It makes me sad that these people are already being forgotten as it is slowly becoming "out of sight, out of mind". It makes me more sensitive to other areas, which are experiencing their own hell trying to recover from tornadoes and flooding. In a blink of an eye lives can be forever changed. It could happen to any of us.
I met some awesome people, doing awesome work, on this trip. Ones who have no idea how in just two days meeting them impacted my life.
So this is my challenge to you. Go out and do something. Go change someones life. Go change your own life. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Go read with children. Make cards and take cookies to a nursing home. Donate blood. Take a meal to the family whose house burnt to the ground last week. Reach out to those who may be affected by a disaster in your own area. Go make a difference.
I have posted many more pictures from this trip here on my shutterfly account.