Archive for the ‘ volunteering ’ Category

>Volunteering — Safety Precautions

Got a call from Damian Penston this morning, who is concerned that many groups doing clean-up work in the affected areas may not be conscious of health risks associated with asbestos and other contaminants they are likely to be exposed to if working near destroyed buildings, etc.

This is a reminder that if you are volunteering in a disaster zone, it is imperative that you take responsibility for conducting your own thorough research on the health risks associated with the work you will be doing, assessing the dangers, and taking appropriate precautions.
That said, here are a few recommendations gathered from different sources.
1. If you are near broken buildings and there is any risk of asbestos dust, please wear a dusk mask with at least an N95 rating. HEPA filter masks are best. Here is an article that touches on the risks.
2. Depending on the conditions where you are working, there may be broken glass, exposed rusty nails, and other hazardous debris. Please consider obtaining boots with steel toes. It is also possible to purchase metal insoles to insert in the bottom of your boots to prevent puncture. If your boots are rubber rather than leather, remember that a nail can still puncture the side of the boot and watch where you step.
3. A tentanus shot booster is recommended. Even a small cut or wound can lead to tetanus.
4. Even if you are just clearing mud in fields and not working around a lot of debris, I recommend rubber or leather gloves over cotton ones. The dust goes right through cotton gloves and will desiccate and irritate your hands over time.
5. Other recommended items include helmets, goggles (especially if you wear contacts), long sleeve rain gear, towels (worn around the neck), whistles (for summoning help in an emergency), etc. This link (Japanese) illustrates guidelines for outfitting yourself. Once again, you must decided how much of this gear is appropriate to the conditions in the area where you are working.
6. When you finish working, it is always recommended that you wash up thoroughly and gargle.
Here is a link to one source of affordable safety gear (thanks, Sandi!):

5/23 – This just in from Damien:
“It is also important to note that individuals with facial hair should not participate in asbestos removal, as protective gear may not fit properly and potentially expose them to loose particles.”

>Tohoku Needs Volunteer Help Now!


Clean-up crew in Iwanuma breaks for lunch, including FVJ members Jade, Sandi, Rajesh, and Camellia.

The Golden Week rush is over and volunteer numbers have dropped off steeply, but there remains a lot of work to do in the tsunami-affected zones in Tohoku. If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to get involved, this is the time!

Much of the work consists of clearing debris and sludge left behind by the tsunami. The tsunami has left a 2-3 cm crust of sludge on everything it touched. The SDF has cleared roads and public areas, but private property such as homes and fields must be cleared by hand, with shovels and wheelbarrows. The sludge and debris is piled near roads, and power shovels and dump trucks will later come to collect the piles. When it is too dry, the sludge turns to dust, crumbling and spreading and filling the air. Too wet and it becomes mucky and heavy. For that reason, it is imperative that as much sludge as possible is removed in the next few weeks, before the rainy season arrives, followed by the summer heat.

What to bring:

1) Volunteer Insurance (fukushi hoken)

Volunteer insurance not only covers medical care if you are injured while volunteering, it also covers costs if you damage someone else’s property or cause someone else to be injured. It is very affordable, ranging from around 500 to 1500 yen for 1 year’s coverage. Be sure to get natural disaster (saigai) coverage. You can acquire it at your nearest branch of the Japan National Council of Social Welfare.

2) Gear – If you are shoveling sludge and removing debris, you’ll need rubber boots and leather or rubber gloves and some good dust masks (a rating of N95 is recommended.) If you wear contacts, be sure to bring safety goggles. Boots with steel toes and/or metal insoles to prevent puncture injuries are best, depending on the environment in which you’ll be volunteering. If possible, find out as much as possible about the specific conditions where you will be working.

Other recommended materials include: shovels, buckets, towels, hat or helmets, long sleeves, long pants, rain gear.

3) Food, water and gasoline – in the early weeks following the disaster, volunteers were encouraged to bring all of their own provisions so as not to burden local supplies of food and gasoline. In most areas, this is no longer necessary, and buying food and water locally is in fact better for local businesses. You should pack a lunch each day when volunteering, though sometimes there is free food available for volunteers that is contributed by independent charities.


1. Be discreet about taking pictures. Do not take pictures of disaster victims, evacuation centers, and private property.

2. When in doubt, err on the side of maintaining a solemn demeanor. You may be in the presence of people who have lost their loved ones, homes, livelihood, etc.

3. When in doubt, inquire before throwing things away. Letters and photographs can be collected for restoration by the owner or at the VC.

Where to go:

A number of Volunteer Centers are once again accepting out-of-prefecture volunteers. This list is current as of 5/13/2011, but be sure to check the VC’s latest information before heading out.


Kessennuma VC

Ishinomaki VC

Iwanuma VC* (some English)

Higashi Matsushima VC

Watari VC**

Yamamoto VC

Tagajo VC

Sendai VC

Shiogama VC

* Tents can be set up in park near VC. Volunteers can sleep in vehicles in parking lot near or opposite VC.

**Tents may be available to borrow.


Soma VC*

Minami Soma VC*

–> 5/17 New website for Minami Soma VC

Shinchi VC*

*out-of-prefecture volunteers are accepted if able to secure local accommodations. Please do not sleep in vehicles or tents.


Inquire here for more information:

岩手県社会福祉協議会 地域福祉企画部 ボランティア・市民活動センター

>Volunteering During Golden Week – Miyagi Prefecture

>Volunteer Centers in Miyagi are bracing themselves for the Golden Week Rush. There is a great deal of concern that the numbers of volunteers will overwhelm the VCs in terms of parking, availability of jobs, etc. If you are thinking about volunteering during Golden Week, if there is any possibility of delaying your activities until after the rush dies down, please consider doing so.
Tohoku will need many volunteers over the upcoming months, and your efforts will be most effective if you schedule them according to the VCs’ needs.

Here is a general updates on the status of the four VCs in Miyagi that have been accepting volunteers from outside of the prefecture:

Ishinomaki VC
is asking that volunteers coming during Golden Week register in advance.

Watari VC will not accept new volunteers from outside of the prefecture as of 5/1.

Iwanuma VC plans to continue accepting volunteers from outside of the prefecture, but there is great concern about the availability of jobs. The number of volunteers yesterday already climbed from 180 to 280. In the past, volunteers have been turned away at this VC or asked to wait when there has not been enough work to go around. There is also concern about the availability of parking and camping space.

Kessennuma VC
asks that larger groups register in advance and asks volunteers to bring extra gasoline in case local supplies are overwhelmed by the rush.

>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.