This is an archived copy of Volunteering for Ten Weeks in Miyagi, reprinted through the courtesy of Asian Community Center 21 (ACC21) . Current condition is different so please find the latest information in other articles.
posted by Megumi Ishimoto June 28th, 2011


For the past ten weeks, I have been volunteering in Miyagi Prefecture. I have seen firsthand the coastal areas devastated by the tsunami, visited temporary shelters and houses, talked with internally displaced persons (IDPs), and worked with hundreds of volunteers as well as local civil groups and municipal governments.


(Ishinomaki on May 17th, 2011, taken by Ishimoto)


I first came to Miyagi Prefecture on April 17th for a three-day volunteer trip to Ishinomaki as part of the Asian NGO Leadership Program(*1) hosted by the NGO Asian Community Center 21 (ACC21). Our team of five helped remove sludge in houses as well as clean school gyms so that they could be used as temporary shelters. Meanwhile, we slept outside in tents while it was still cold. On the last day, we drove along the coast side of the Ishinomaki port, and what we saw was a panorama view of a town that was completely destroyed. It was something unreal in a sense but it was definitely the reality for people along the coast who were affected by the tsunami.


(Minamisanriku on July 15th, 2011, taken by Ishimoto)


I came back to Miyagi again on May 11th as a volunteer of RQ Citizens Disaster Relief Network Japan (RQ) (, a volunteer organization that started full-scale relief activities in the disaster stricken area on March 17th. Since then I have been supporting activities of the local civic group “Egaonet” (smile network) and the Tome municipal government to assist approximately 400 women in twelve shelters in Tome, most of whom were evacuated from Shizugawa in Minamisanriku which was entirely swept away by the tsunami.



(RQ VC in Tome in Miyagi on July 17th, 2011, taken by Ishimoto)

The total number of volunteers, 420,000, for the first three months after the earthquake is only one third compared to the number of volunteers, 1,170,000, for the earthquake in Kobe in 1995 according to the June 19th, 2011 edition of the Asahi Shimbun. In the case of RQ, 14,570 people in total have joined our volunteer activities not only from all over Japan but also from Korea, Thailand, Ghana, France, New Zealand and many other countries, and range from 12 to 73 years old.


(A temporary shelter in a school gym on June 4th, 2011, taken by Ishimoto)

So far I have visited temporary shelters 41 times distributing personal-needs questionnaires, providing goods, and carrying out events designed for comfort such as face and hand massages or haircuts specifically for women held by the local civic group “Egaonet”. This way, it is possible to hear the voices of women who are internally displaced when there are no other opportunities to do so.


(Hand massage in temporary shelter on May 25th, 2011, taken by Ishimoto)

According to the Miyagi prefectural government, 3,067 IDPs are still living in 60 different temporary shelters in Miyagi as of July 14th. While this number is high, it is a dramatic decline from the peak of 320,885 IDPs in 1,183 different shelters on March 13th, 2011 just in Miyagi. Now, 14,836 temporary houses have been built in 223 different sites and 6,926 houses are in the process of being built in 150 sites in Miyagi. The average rooms of the temporary houses are only 30 square meters and not big enough to support a family of four.


(Temporary houses in Minamisanriku on June 24th, 2011, taken by Ishimoto)


Temporary shelters may soon disappear when the rest of the IDPs move into the temporary houses. However, it does not mean the issues in the devastated areas will disappear. There are no jobs available for evacuees, there are cases of domestic violence (DV), some people die in solitude, single mothers are struggling to support their children, there are a number of people affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), community members are scattered throughout different evacuation centers, there are areas where the ground continues to sink, and there is a shortage of land for rebuilding. As time passes, with rubble being cleaned up and temporary houses being built, people in the unaffected areas tend to forget about the reality that the people in the affected areas are still facing. One can learn a lot more from actually being at the site than by listening to a long lecture on the subject. Now, many volunteers are expected to come to the devastated areas for the coming summer holiday. Key to helping Tohoku fully recover will be connecting people from both sides so that it won’t just be us helping them but everyone helping each other.


(Written by Megumi Ishimoto, ACC21 Volunteer Staff Based in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, on July 20th, 2011. Edited by Reece Scott, ACC21 Intern)


(*1) The Asian NGO Leadership Program is designed to train and educate NGO leaders for the 21st century to work in Asia. The program trains talent to be able to collaborate and have dialogue with peoples throughout Asia, a continent with many connections to Japan. Under the current five-year plan (2009-2014), the program accepts eight applicants every year and hopes to graduate 40 people within five years.


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