Hope

by T.Allison, volunteer from Denver, CO: April 19-24

I had the opportunity last week to visit Japan and provide whatever support I could to the survivors of the tsunami and my friends who have been coordinating relief efforts soon after the earthquake. Grace City Church launched less than a year ago in Tokyo and have joined with multiple organizations and networks, sending over 50 teams into the hardest hit areas of Tohoku.

The day after I arrived, I was invited to join a meeting with the main organizers of what has turned into a full fledged relief effort.  It was such a great opportunity to learn about their vision for the future in Tohoku.

They are supporting the establishment of an NGO that will bring together a network of organizations, individual volunteers, and local government to develop a community center in the town of Ishinomaki.  Through the center, they plan to provide holistic support to Ishinomaki not only to provide relief, but also to build and strengthen the community over the years.

It was awesome to see their desire for a long term endeavor. What was described to me and what I saw was that the Japanese government is doing an excellent job of reestablishing infrastructure; but what is lacking is the rebuilding of people, both emotionally and mentally. Some of the towns that were hit by this tragedy lost half their population. Those that survived have lost their whole livelihoods. It is essential that the survivors know other communities are all standing with them.

On the following day, we loaded a moving van with fresh vegetables donated by a grocer in Tokyo, an electronic organ (the couple I was staying with are both accomplished professional musicians). It took 7 hours to drive from Tokyo to Minami-Sanriku (which is about 10 miles north of Ishinomaki) and we finally pulled up to a luxury hotel high on a cliff, overlooking the bay. The hotel was giving much of it’s space to relief and cleanup workers and also gave space to the full time members of an organization, OGA for Aid. We met up with them and stayed in the room next to theirs in the staff dorms above the hotel’s day care center.

The following day we loaded our van with more supplies they had gotten previously and headed out on a round of delivering provisions to a number of unofficial hinanjos (evacuation sites) in the area. There are a few large government-run hinanjos, but many people have chosen not to live in the cramped spaces and are relying on the aid of grassroots organizations like OGA and Grace City Relief for help.

Many of these hinanjos are the homes of people in the highlands of Minami-Sanriku who have opened their doors to their neighbors. The hinanjo pictured below is housing 18 people and they are taking care of the distribution of provisions to about 180 other people in nearby homes.

I was amazed by the complete destruction of the town. I saw the pictures and all the before and after shots, but it was when I was standing in the middle of a field of rubble the size of a town where only 3 buildings were left upright that I really glimpsed it. The residents had been warned that the tsunami would be about 6 meters high, but when it hit land, it rose to over 23 meters and swept away even some of the evacuation sites people had fled to. This car was lifted and set on the roof of a three story building, and this was a quarter mile inland from the coast.

There was some good to be seen, though.  As I said, the Japanese government has worked quickly to reestablish roads and power to most of the area.  We even past this amazing, operating gas station in town amidst all of the debris.  The attendants were manning the stations while the suit-clad owner stood in front of the metal skeleton of what used to be his garage.  It was amazing how much hope that one spot gave amidst all of the wreckage, that rebuilding and restoring is possible.

T.Allison is from North Carolina, USA, currently living in Colorado. He is a software developer at Tyler Technologies. When we asked folks from Denver to come help, he booked the flight over within the week. Thanks T for all your help!!

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