May 22, 2011- Our first fruit delivery to Rikuzentakata! Minami and I picked up about 15 boxes of bananas in Honjo before hitting the road towards the east coast of Tohoku. The drive down was pretty straight forward minus a detour due to a damaged bridge from the earthquake. On our way down we stopped by to check out another fruit source we heard of in Kitakami (Thanks Rob!).
Super Osen is like a HUGE mega grocery store, but everything is super CHEAP! There was definitely a reason the whole parking lot was packed at about 9:30 a.m. Inside the store was pure madness! I couldn’t believe how many people were crammed in there trying to take advantage of all the bargains! Since we loaded up first in Honjo, we could only fit about 7 more boxes of bananas in the car, but each box of ~74 bananas cost only 1600yen! We were shocked! They are definitely going to see us back there in the future. We rolled into Rikuzentakata a little after noon. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking driving into these areas of devastation, and of course we heard about the tsunami’s impact on this area, but nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. It was shocking to see how high the water level rose, and how far inland the tsunami came. Even driving several km away from the coast, we still saw whole communities that were flattened.
Our first shelter was a JHS with about 500 residents. It was one of the bigger shelters in Rikuzentakata, so we unloaded 12 boxes to them. From there we headed to several smaller shelters in the area to deliver the rest of the load. We went to 5 shelters total, and they ranged from 30 people in size to 500. All in all, we were very impressed with all of the shelters we visited. They were all extremely organized and seemed to be getting quite a lot of donations in the form of supplies and food. BUT, every shelter did tell us that they hardly receive fresh fruit, so it was nice to be able to provide fresh bananas for them, and they were all thrilled to receive them. Throughout the 5 shelters we provided enough fruit so that everyone could have at least 2 bananas. Its amazing how it all worked out, and we were so happy to be able to provide EVERYONE with fresh fruit. Before heading out of town we checked in with the local VC about volunteer opportunities, and we look forward to organizing/bringing in a group to volunteer in the near future. This first trip to Rikuzentakata was a huge success, and we look forward to getting back there as soon as possible with MORE FRUIT and a GENKI team of volunteers. A big thanks to everyone who has supported volunteerAKITA and The Fruit Tree Project! There is no way any of this could have been possible without your help. MUCH LOVE.
May 21, 2011 – A small group of determined ALTs left Akita in the rainy early morning with hopes of better weather in Kesennuma. Lucky for us it turned out to be a beautiful day on the other side of the mountains, and it was a perfect day for volunteering! We joined up with three other foreigners and two Japanese volunteers to make “Team International.” Our project for the day was cleaning out a lady’s rented apartment. The surrounding area was completely clean, and when we got out of the car our first question was, “Did the tsunami even come here?” The pachinko parlor across the street was up and running business as usual and the neighboring shops were all clean. However, we walked in the apartment and quickly realized that yes, we were in the disaster zone.
Everything in the apartment was covered in a layer of mud, and the tatami mats that had been pulled up and thrown around by the tsunami had molded in the two months since the disaster. The lady asked us to throw everything out, so we got to work moving out the furniture and bagging up everything else. The worst part of the day came when we were shoveling up the mud and discovered the large pile of fish the tsunami had deposited in a corner. We worked through it though, and were able to have the apartment entirely cleaned out by early afternoon. By the time we finished, the trash pile outside was enormous. The big furniture had to be relocated to a nearby park to make room for all the other things we brought out, and a special garbage truck came by to pick it up after we left. Since the apartment was a rental the lady asked us not to throw the tatami mats out, but instead to put them back in. They were caked in mud and molded, but she was afraid the landlord would be upset if they were thrown out. We did as she asked, but the mats are definitely NOT safe to ever use again.
When we said goodbye to our friends at the Volunteer Center they asked if anyone from “Team Akita” would be coming the next day. They are looking forward to our visits, and I am definitely looking forward to returning!
May 15, 2011 – Woke up today to an amazing sunny day! We left around 8a.m. to go pick up fruit so we could finish the delivery in time to meet up with the big crew that came down from Akita to volunteer for the day! We decided to deliver bananas all weekend because right now they are the best bang for our buck. Also the folks in the shelters love them because they are delicious and easy to eat, even for the elderly. Our order today was ~1680 bananas, the same as yesterday. Jon came in late last night, so he was able to help with the deliveries this morning while Todd and Michan headed over to the VC to get everyone checked in to volunteer. It’s always hard on the last day of delivery because everyone is always so thankful and appreciative of what we are doing, so it’s hard not being able to provide for them everyday. Although our main objective is to raise money and make deliveries on our own, we still focus a lot of our time on raising awareness of this issue. If other groups can do the same thing we are doing, we can all make a really big difference in these people’s lives.
May 15, 2011 – We were rolling deep. 15 people from Akita showed up to help today. That was our biggest group of volunteers in Kesennuma yet. It was great to see everyone down there ready to work. At the VC we meet up with four more Japanese people and went to our work site in a group of 19. This job was right on the coast, but was probably not the hardest one we have had. We were tasked with cleaning out a plot of land. There was lots of garbage rocks and a little debris to haul out. We also had to keep our eyes open for money and photo albums, both of which were found (small brick of solid gold). We all worked hard and kept our collective noses to the grind stone and before long it was the end of the day and that plot of land was all cleared up.
I want to thank all the people that came down to help this weekend. Michiko, Paul, Minami, Will, Kathie, Margaret, Rye, Adrian, Melissa, Nikki, Shaun, Ben, Jim, Jon, Ashley, and Rachel, you guys did a great job.
May 14, 2011- Back again in Kesennuma. This weekend a bunch of people from Akita made the trip to volunteer for one or two days at the volunteer centre (VC) in Kesennuma. Paul, Minami, Will, Michiko and myself were sent to help a very nice gentlemen in the heart of the city. Being a small group, only the five of us, we were able to clean up a quite a bit. We were right in the center of the city so there was little debris to cleanup. This job was all about bagging up the tsunami mud and rotten fish. We have been to a few sites now and I have to say that rotting fish was the worst smell I have ever smelt. We were all very greatful that there was a light breeze keeping the air moving. So with our shovels, bags and brooms we filled about 200 bags of muck and cleaned out the back yard and this inside of the gentleman`s shop. It was a great days and we got a lot accomplished.