Young people volunteer to get Japan back on its feet
By Yuki Matsuoka
KOBE, 11 October 2011 - Every morning from 17-24 September, Kobe University student Mr. Erick Gonzales picks up his badge, his assignment and tools for the day, and is transported inside the coastal city of Ofunato to help the city clean up and recover from the damage caused by the 11 March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Along with twenty-four other young people from Kyoto, Osaka, Nagasaki, Nagoya, Kobe, and Tokyo, Mr. Gonzales is part of a volunteer work camp organized by the Seido Cultural Center (SCC). For one week, this group of high school and university students, and young professionals volunteered to clear mud and debris from the water drainage system that runs alongside the city streets.
The volunteer program is an eye-opener for the young people to understand the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami. It also provides an opportunity for them to understand the benefits and challenges of risk reduction – what citizens could have done and what the young people would do if they were in the same situation.
“The most important thing is not looking at these residents who need support from above nor thinking that we are helping those poor people. We need to take it as our own problem. This sensitivity and sympathy is very important,” said Mr. Takashi Miura, a councilman for Ofunato city, who shared his experience with the volunteers.
In Japan, the United Nations will be celebrating the International Day for Disaster Reduction on October 24 in conjunction with UN Day. UNISDR and its partners will be organizing a forum at Sendai’s Tohoku University to discuss and report back on disaster prevention and reconstruction measures taking place following the 11 March disaster. One of the planned activities will include students sharing their volunteering experiences in the disaster affected areas and the presentation of a youth declaration.
The city of Ofunato in eastern Japan is 120 kilometers from Sendai city. The height of the 11 March tsunami that inundated the city was estimated to have reached 25 meters. Provisional counts by the Iwate Prefecture Office reports that Ofunato city lost 339 people in the tragedy and 3,629 houses were destroyed. The total population of the city was about 39,589 before the disaster and 107 are still unaccounted for.
(Photos by Mr. Erick Gonzales and Video by Mr. Alberto Hikaru Shintani)