Following 3/11 – The Great East Japan Earthquake: a volunteer’s Disaster Reconstruction Report [No.7]

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Nearly 200 people gathered at NADIA’s Christmas party in Ishinomaki

 

Since the closure of the Minato primary school shelter on October 11, residents of surrounding neighborhoods have moved to all different places around the region, to find dwelling in either temporary housing, small rental apartments, or at relatives. As the school hasn’t reopened its doors, children have been re-enrolled elsewhere, close to their new home.

Winter has finally set itself in town. Snow and cold air add to the silence in the streets. Only the roaring of a few trucks and shovel-cars remind us that the reconstruction work is still going on. The majority of volunteers groups has taken a break until spring comes.

Some are however still persevering, persuaded that it is not the time to give up in these difficult conditions and that on the contrary their determination is most needed. It is the case for the group I founded. Last Friday night, nearly 40 volunteers, veterans and novices, headed north to Ishinomaki, packing not only boots, gloves and helmets, but also turkeys, roaster, presents…. on the menu: one day of labor and one day of festivities!

Day one: Working at -5oC to clear houses is not an easy task. But the smile and warmth from the house owners, mixed with the enthusiasm of the volunteers, form a perfect atmosphere to forget those hard conditions. The day passes by very quickly and the results removed a tremendous weight from the owners’ shoulders. Above all, an undefinable magic created human links that will not fade away before long.

Day two: Around 11am, the doors of the community center are wide open. It is very warm inside. Guests are starting to arrive: nearly 200 people, adults and children. All well-known faces, those of people we have helped since March 11, gathered in one same room, sharing an American-style Christmas meal and German-style Christmas cakes. The warmth can be felt way beyond that of heaters: people are seeing each other for the first time in several weeks, children catch up with their old classmates. Santa Claus distributes personalized gifts to every child, according to the wish lists sent to us a few weeks ago with the help of their parents. Mothers are treated with lovely natural-stone bracelets. Clown, magician, hockey, soccer, well the atmosphere is all there.

This occasion has also allowed us to identify the needs of each of them, in order to prepare next year’s plans. We are resuming work early January.

Christine Lavoie-Gagnon
Originally from Quebec, Canada, she has lived in Japan for over 17 years and manages a communications firm in Tokyo. However, she is most likely to be found in Ishinomaki with NADIA, an organization she founded to aid the victims of the disaster.

 

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