Archive for the ‘ clean-up ’ Category

It’s Not Just Mud

INJM Working on a landslide-relief project in Onagawa town.

This is one of the groups in Tohoku that has playedgracious host to Foreign Volunteers Japan members on several visits up to Tohoku so far. The group was originallyformed in the famous “Tent City” in Ishinomaki, that ran frommid-March until September 30th, on the grounds of Senshu University inIshinomaki.
The founder of the group, Jamie El-Banna, is known as thego-to-guy for information regarding local conditions in Ishinomaki. He has workedclosely on projects with the British Chamber of Commerce, Ishinomaki 2.0,Samaritan’s Purse, and several others. 
Jamie (far right) welcoming a new group of volunteers to INJM HQ.
While working in Osaka, Jamie travelled out toHigashi-Matsushima on a volunteer trip in mid May. Although that was well afterthe initial rescue phase of the tsunami relief efforts, the level ofdevastation and unmet needs of the refugees that Jamie encountered, made himrealize that there was still tremendous amounts of work that had to be done forthe relief efforts. 
After returning to Osaka, he didn’t feel right settlingback down in the city. There was still so much to be done in thetsunami-affected regions. After a few weeks, he made the dramatic decision toquit his job, sublet his apartment, and moved out to Tent City in Ishinomaki. Thatwas where the core organizational group behind the It’s Not Just Mud projectwas formed.  
Long-term volunteer Manish already muddy by 10:00am.
The name for the project of course, comes from theinitial challenge facing anyone getting involved with post-tsunami clean-up andrelief work. Not only did the devastating force of the tsunami destroy much of what it came into contact with, it also covered nearly everythingelse with a thick layer of toxic, bacteria-breeding, noxious and thick mud. 
Much of theclean-up efforts have been focused on removing this mud… but, as Jamie puts it”it’s not just mud. It’s about the people who are living throughthis terrible tragedy, and helping them get back to a normal life.” 
Although theearly days of the project revolved around clean-up projects coordinated throughlocal volunteer centers, INJM has since expanded their projects. 
As of the endof September, the It’s Not Just Mud project has now moved into two neighboringhouses in the Watanoha district of Ishinomaki. Impressed by their volunteeractivities, the houses were actually offered to the group by refugees who had beenable to move to another district of the city.
Half-restored INJM house in late-September
 When the groupfirst moved in, the first floor of both houses were hollowed-out. The walls andfloors had been badly damaged, festering sludge under the floors, and rottinginsulation in the walls all needed to be extracted, and shattered windowsneeded to be boarded up. 
Over the lasttwo months, Jamie’s group has worked on-top of their other volunteer projectsto restore the house to working shape. By the end of September they hadfloorboards and walls extracted, and removed the tsunami sludge. Soon afterthat they put up new walls and floorboards (generously provided by Samaritan’sPurse), as well as restoring the water and gas. By early October they replaced theelectrical sockets, and soon will have a water heater installed. Even withoutthe water heater, Jamie explained that volunteers are able to visit the localtemporary hot-springs facilities for a hot bath.  
Knocking down a wall on a recent project.
As for the specific projects of INJM, here are theircurrent four main aims:
  1. Encouraging volunteering – They do this by offering assistance in coming in terms of advice and logistical support.
  2. Salvaging homes in the Ishinomaki area – In many cases, only the ground floor of the home was flooded, and in some cases soaked in sea water for up to three days. Months later, the building materials are waterlogged and rotting, and must be removed. This means removing the walls, ceiling, insulation, and flooring, then the 3-5cm layer of mud that is under everything.
    Normally, this kind of work would be undertaken by a professional builder, but because of the enormous number of damaged homes, the waiting list to get a professional builder is extremely long, and the process is costly. They work with experienced volunteers (several of which are trained builders) to perform this manual labor and gut houses, taking them one step closer to being liveable.
    For some families, they have been living on the second floor of their damaged home for months, passing through the rotting and hazardous first floor daily. Making it safe and clean is a significant improvement for these people.
  3. Salvaging homes further afield – INJM work with both local groups in central Ishinomaki and in more remote areas of the region. They have identified the need for this kind of service in towns across the Oshika Peninsula.
  4. Delivering fresh fruit and vegetables to areas that don’t have accessto such things. Now that the Winter is coming, INJM has begun focusing on thedistribution of Winter coats, kerosene heaters, and running a ‘kerosene pickupand delivery service’ for residents of refugee shelters and temporary housingunits without access to a car.

INJM volunteers helping a local sake-shop owner restore her business. 

A popular aspect of the group, is the members’ great sense of humor, andthe openness to new volunteers. The INJM page documents various F.U.Es. Thoseare the “Frequently Used Excuses” that unfortunately have beenpreventing many potential volunteers from making the short trip to Ishinomaki. Hereare the official F.U.E from the INJM webpage: 

F.U.E – Frequently Used Excuses

Below you can find some of the most common reasons peopleuse to not come. They all have a valid basis, but after reading below, I thinkyou’ll find that in actual fact, there’s nothing to worry about!
I’mworried I’ll find something really scary in the rubble!!
 The Self Defense Force has cleared most of the largedebris in Ishinomaki. Most of the work we do is clearing mud that is 2-4cmthick from homes and properties. You might find something that is emotionallytroubling, for example people’s personal belongings or photographs, but it isunlikely you’ll find something truly troubling with the kind of work we do.
I don’thave any experience!!
 Everyonehas to start somewhere! You will always have someone experienced working withyou who can answer your questions and tell you what to do and how to do it.It’s not too difficult, and after a day you’ll quickly learn what needs to bedone, and will be able to teach new volunteers yourself.
I’m notvery strong!!
 Youwon’t be asked to do anything you can’t do. Some jobs do require strength, butif you aren’t cut out for that, there are plenty of things you can do. Plentyof women and older people work with us!
I don’thave any equipment!!
 Allthe professional building equipment will be provided. Please look here for what you shouldbring!
I can’tbook a bus, I don’t read Kanji!!
 Contactus with your dates and we can arrange someone to do that for you.
I don’tspeak Japanese/English!!
 That’sOK! On the work site we will always make sure you understand what you’resupposed to be doing, and there are plenty of people around who can help out ifyou don’t understand. 


If you would beinterested in joining the INJM project, please feel free to contact Jamiedirectly at: jamie[AT]itsnotjustmud[DOT]com


Or visit theirFacebook fan group to ask for more information: 

Back to Rikuzentakata

* Written by Rob Keyworth

Rikuzentakata in mid-May by Foreign Volunteers Japan

Rikuzentakata in mid-May a photo by Foreign Volunteers Japan on Flickr.

Well, it’s been nearly two months since our last trip north and today Andy and I took advantage of the last day of the JR special pass and headed north to Tohoku. It was a long but ultimately rewarding day – up at 4, home at midnight and in the middle we’d managed to drop off 1.5 tons of food to where it was needed. But as ever that doesn’t begin to explain the journey we had.

We’ve been planning this trip for a few weeks but had a number of difficulties in arranging the fresh food that we wanted. Our previous suppliers were unable to provide the size of order that we needed and they introduced us to a wholesalers who were happy to provide what we needed but we were unable to provide the documentation in time. And in the end we spoke to the Amazing Paul Yoo of ‘The Fruit Tree Project’ ( and he introduced us to a supplier in Kesennuma who was only too happy to provide us with 250,000 yen’s worth of fresh produce. So Andy and I set off this morning to Ichinoseki on the brilliant JR pass (10,00

0 yen day trip, ends today – why?) where we picked up the truck and headed to Kesennuma.

Our supplier was simply superb and had our entire order ready to be picked up when we turned up at around 11am and had most of his staff ready to load up the truck for us. A short time later we had 250,000 yen’s worth of carrots, potatoes, onions, daikon, leeks, oranges and apples loaded on the truck and we were nearly ready to go. There was a slight delay as the owner then raced around the store to get some supplies for the drivers. After looking at us he decided we had way too much healthy food in the truck so he came back with a bag full of chocolate, crisps and a couple of bottles of water and we were on our way – what a star!

On the drive in to Kesennuma I again realized what I’ve missed over the past 15 years. The area was, and in many places, stunning. Beautiful mountains, beautiful country scenes. Idyllic.

We drove the few extra kilometres into Kesennuma and Andy wondered if there was a race track nearby as there was a smell that  was very strong smell in the area. It took us a while to realise that that was actually the smell of the town. The smell of rotting houses, rotting fish, rotting everything.

The last time I was in Kesennuma we skirted around the most devastated areas and this time we had to drive right through it. What was surprising was that although the majority of the ships that had been stranded ashore had been moved, the homes and businesses looked very similar to what we had first season at the end of March. It was as though they’d been forgotten.

The major difference between now and then was the temperature. My first visit to Kesennuma and it was trying to snow. Today it was 30 degrees. Which creates a whole new set of problems.

Our initial plan was to drive from Kesennuma to Rikuzentakata and drop off aid at the temporary housing. However, for whatever reason we were unable to find the temporary houses and ended up in Rikuzentakata.

250,000 yen worth of fruit and vegetables bound for Rikuzentakata.

A bit lost, a bit confused, but also genuinely stunned. On my last visit there was 7-8 km of devastation and I genuinely thought that it would take years to clean up. If you haven’t been there, it’s difficult to explain the current situation but there has been massive progress; There are mountains of wood, steel, rubber. A field with hundreds (thousands?) of cars that have been destroyed but all put together. It’s almost unrecognizable from the fields of devastation from two short months ago. It’s still bad. It’s still very, very bad. But on the surface at least, it is improving. We went looking for shelters/temporary housing where we could deliver our supplies. We dropped off at a couple before heading to the main distribution center who gladly took what we had left. It was unfortunate that we were unable to deliver directly to the temporary housing but due to time constraints this was simply impossible. We did manage to deliver 1.5 tons of food for which the people were very grateful.

As ever, there are many people to thank for making this happen.

IFG for donating some of the money raised from the Futsal tournament. And everyone who attended.

The Black Lion and all of it’s customers who supported the Big Iwate Drive and the Books sales.

Paul Yoo for the introduction and his supplier for making it happen.

Thank you for your support. And please keep helping us and everybody else that is trying to help.

>Volunteering FAQ from the Iwanuma Volunteer Center Blog


Volunteers wait in line to be matched with jobs at Iwanuma Volunteer Center

Interested in putting together a team to help with clean-up in Tohoku? Many volunteer centers are now accepting volunteers. If you’re considering heading up during Golden Week, please keep in mind that many, many other people have the same intention, and Volunteer Centers in Tohoku are likely to be overwhelmed by the influx. If you can, please postpone your activities to a time when VCs will better be able to accommodate your help. When the time comes, here is some information to get you started.

Many VCs only accept local volunteers, to discourage an influx of volunteers from afar who would tax resources such as food, water, gasoline, etc. However, a few of the hardest-hit municipalities are currently accepting volunteers from throughout Japan. The conditions for volunteering vary from VC to VC. Some require registration in advance, others permit you to just show up that morning (or afternoon) and be matched with a job. Some have areas for volunteers to camp or sleep in vehicles, others request that volunteers find lodging elsewhere.

Before setting out to volunteer, be sure you acquire up-to-date information from the VC where you will be working. Much of the information is only available in Japanese, and for this and other reasons, I highly recommend putting together a team with at least one member who is fluent in Japanese and English. Not only is it important that the VC and local people you are helping are able to communicate their needs to you, volunteers need to be prepared to cope with emergency situations, injuries, etc. Here are some FAQ about volunteering taken from the Iwanuma Volunteer Center blog (scroll down for English.)









A. 現在、長期滞在の方は車中泊やテントを張ってその中で寝泊まりされる方が多いです。車中泊の方は、ボランティアセンターの近くに大きい駐車場がありますの でそこに車を停めていただくようになります。テントの方は、ボランティアセンターの近くの里の杜中央公園に設営場を設けておりますので、そちらにテントを 張っていただくようになります。公園にはトイレもありますので、そちらもご利用いただけます。

A. 今のところ県内・外のボランティアさんを受け入れ続ける予定です。現在も多くのお問合せがあり、多数のボランティアさんがいらっしゃることが予想されま す。受け入れ状況につきましては岩沼市災害ボランティアセンターのホームページにて随時更新していきますので、ご確認ください。

A. お店はほぼ通常営業に戻ってきています。食べ物や飲み物も岩沼市内で調達することは可能です。ガソリンの心配をされる方もいますが、並ばずに買えるぐらい 供給は安定しておりますのでご安心ください。ですが、自己完結がボランティアの基本ですので、できる限りご自身で準備して現地入りしていただけると助かり ます。



A. 岩沼市ボランティアセンターでは現在泥かきボランティアが中心となっています。女性でもたくさんの方が活躍していますので、是非ご協力ください。理容、 マッサージのボランティアの問い合わせが多いのですが、理容の方は現在間に合っております。ありがとうございます。マッサージ・理容のボランティアを希望 される方は避難所に直接問い合わせください。

(English version)
Iwanuma Volunteer Center Q&A

We are grateful for the assistance of volunteers from throughout the country. Here are responses to some frequently asked questions. If you have additional inquiries, we ask that you contact us [in Japanese] between the hours of 9 am and 4 pm.

Q) What are conditions currently like at the Volunteer Center?
A) In order to respond to the high demand for volunteer aid as quickly as possible volunteer activities are currently divided into two sessions (two hours each) in the morning and afternoon. Please bring your own lunch. It is fine if you can only participate in the morning or afternoon session. Please understand that due to the large numbers of volunteers offering their help, there are times when we cannot accommodate everyone in the morning volunteer session. If this happens, we will arrange for you to be first in line to be matched for volunteer work during the afternoon session.

Q) Do we need to make arrangements with the Volunteer Center before coming?
A) Individuals do not need to contact us before volunteering. You can report directly to the reception desk and sign in. We ask that groups of 8 people or more contact us in advance to let us know the number of participants coming, their schedule, and the materials they can bring.  Volunteers coming from outside of the city or prefecture are asked to acquire volunteer insurance with natural disaster coverage from their local branch of the Japan National Council of Social Welfare [Shakai Fukushi Kyogikai, [Japanese only] Please bear the cost of the insurance yourself. [One year enrollment costs 490 yen]

Q) What do we need to bring?
A) You will most likely be helping to clear mud out of homes, so please wear comfortable clothing that can get dirty. We highly recommend wearing boots or safety shoes. If you can, please bring dust masks, safety goggles (especially if you wear contact lenses), shovels, etc.

Q) I can only come for one day. Is that okay?
A) Whatever time you are available to help out is fine. There are two reception periods, in the morning beginning at 8:30 am, and again in the afternoon beginning at 12:00 pm, so please come at the time that works best for you.

Q) Will I need to drive to the worksite in my own vehicle?
A) In order to prevent confusion, volunteers who come to the Volunteer Center in their own cars will be asked to park in the large parking area across the road. We will provide transportation to the work areas.

Q) I need somewhere to spend the night. Where should I stay?
A) Currently, many of our long-term volunteers are sleeping in tents or in their vehicles. If you wish to sleep in your vehicle, there is a large parking lot near the volunteer center and you may park there. For those sleeping in tents, you can set up in the Satonomori Chuo Koen Park near the Volunteer Center. There is a restroom in the park you can use.

Q) Will you be accepting volunteers during Golden Week?
A) At this time, we plan to continue to accept volunteers from Miyage Prefecture and beyond. We are currently receiving many inquiries and we expect that many volunteers will come during that period. For updates, please check the Iwanuma Disaster Volunteer Center Homepage.

Q) Can we buy things in Iwanuma?
A) Most of the local shops are up and running. It is possible to purchase food and beverages in Iwanuma City. Some volunteers worry about the availability of gasoline, but our supplies have stabilized to the point where there are no longer lines to fill up. That said, self-sufficiency is the cornerstone of volunteerism, so we appreciate if you can provide for your own needs as much as possible before coming to Iwanuma.

Q) Can I come by car?
A) Yes. Please park in the large parking lot across the street from the Sogo Fukushi Center (i-Plaza), not the one at the center. Due to aftershocks, some roads may be closed, so please check your route before coming. Thank you for your cooperation.

Q) Are there trains from Sendai to Iwanuma?
A) The JR lines are currently functioning, and it takes approximately 25 minutes (320 yen each way) from Sendai to Iwanuma. Trains are running on a limited schedule, so please look into matter on your own.

Q) Do you need volunteers for jobs other than shoveling mud?
A) Right now, shoveling mud is the main job available at the Iwanuma Volunteer Center. Many women are participating, so we urge you to help as well. We receive many inquiries about whether we need barber and massage volunteers, but at the moment we have enough barbers. Thank you for wanting to help. If you want to do barber or massage volunteer work, please contact the evacuation center.