At the end of September, I took one of my many trips to Minamisanriku Cho, a town 324 kilometers south of my home in Aomori city.
With my fully loaded DS400 Yamaha cruiser I left Aomori City at 21:00 and arrived at the O.G.A. FOR AID Bunkhouse at 1:30AM. As usual it was filled to capacity, this time with volunteers from Korea, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Located about 150 meters from the CLC project site (Community Learning Center) the Bunkhouse is a whirl of activity in the mornings. A team of volunteers was getting ready to leave and I had the opportunity of meeting Andrew Peyton from Macroplastics, who has long been a strong supporter of O.G.A. FOR AID and also viewed the Hydroponics station assembled the day before at the SeaSideCenter by Aragon St. Charles and the team from the ANZCCJ. They were all there for our current mission: GFA harvest support. I fell in line with the volunteers as they assembled in the parking lot and together we headed towards one of the 14 fields of O.G.A. FOR AID project GFA. The last of the 8 tons of tomatoes were waiting to be harvested.
On the way, we drove through the desolate valley that used to be the town Shizugawa. We stopped to get our lunch and drinks at a temporary 7-11 convenience store. Other groups of volunteers could be seen along the devastated landscape, as the clearing of debris and rubble continues.
We divided into harvesting, packing, sorting and transporting teams. For two whole days we stood, or sat in a sea of tomatoes pulling, plucking, sweating and and chatting. Looking forward to an Italian Pasta dinner on the first night we collected the Second class tomatoes that were slightly blemished and once the word got out everyone pitched in to prepare a great pasta al pomodoro! Bon Appetit! After dinner everyone got to enjoy the fantastic Onsen specially the outdoor one overlooking the sea. By 11:30 or so the animated conversation was spiced up by a second batch of pasta this time pepperoncino style.
I was impressed by everyone’s altruism and generosity as accommodations in the Bunkhouse are spartan to say the least. There are a total of 4 bedrooms bunkbed style and a dining room used as a spare bedroom. During the two days I met over 20 exceptional men and women who came from all over the globe and who are a major part of O.G.A. FOR AID project success.
The Green Farmers Association is just one of O.G.A. FOR AID project Minamisanrikucho, its goals include providing a viable economic rehabilitation to the local residents. This project as well as the CLC, and distribution system and actually the very existence of OGA FOR aid is a direct result of the fundamental importance of volunteers, who from day one have contributed their time, efforts and money.
The innate desire of helping our fellow man in their time of need coupled with modern technology is empowering us to do what in previous time was beyond our reach. On my way back to Aomori I wanted to see for myself what conditions are along the coast, 18 months on.
I rode to Kesennuma, Rikuzentakata, Ofunato, Kamaishi, and Miyako. These are the main cities but there are countless hamlets by the seaside that also were devastated. In Total over 700 Km of the eastern Japan coast were affected. Basically the gathering of debris is coming to a close and everywhere there are mountains of car wrecks, wooden and other construction materials.
Those that have not moved away are living together in the Kasetsu jutaku (temporary housing). Only in the cities that were not totally destroyed you can see a resemblance of rebuilding along side what was left. Cities like Minamisanriku where the city is gone are still in limbo and for a variety of reasons no action is being taken except for the restoring of public roads and basic services.
The situation is obviously not at emergency level but is a slow grinding status quo which coupled with population drain is undermining any future rebuilding.
This has been my 14th visit to the town, and as usual, though I’m happy to be home with my wife and daughter I already look forward to my next occasion to volunteer in the field.
Next time I drive the Toyota Prius! To be continued…