TOMODACHI Alumni Participate in Volunteer Activities in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture in Response to the Flooding in Western Japan
From August 6 to 10, 2018, a TOMODACHI team consisting of five alumni and one staff member traveled to Mabi-cho, Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture to join relief efforts on the ground in response to the Western Japan Floods (also known as the July Floods) that flooded rivers in multiple locations, bringing on waters as high as two stories and landslides that left thousands of homes damaged or destroyed with many hundreds of people displaced across western Japan.
As part of the TOMODACHI Alumni Disaster Response Training Program, the team joined efforts with Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center (PBV) that focused its efforts in a town called Mabicho. Robin Lewis, alumnus of the TOMODACHI NGO Leadership Program supported by J.P. Morgan, led the team in supporting three main core areas of focus. He outlined them below as:
1) Supporting Management of Emergency Shelters
2) Supporting Marginalized Evacuees
3) Supporting Management of Disaster Volunteer Centers
To support in the management of emergency shelters, the team visited the two schools in Mabicho, Okada Elementary School and Nima Elementary School, which each housed 300 and 200 residents respectively. Support consisted of sorting supplies, connecting with residents, and checking in on any needs that may have gone unnoticed.
To support marginalized evacuees, the team visited Kumano Shrine located higher up in the mountains to bring nutritious meals to residents who had evacuated there, as there were no designated evacuation centers nearby and learned the importance of providing support to people who may slip through the cracks and ensuring that no one is left behind.
To support in the management of disaster volunteer centers, the team joined the MiyatabashiKita Volunteer Center where they learned of the importance of managing volunteers to mobilize safely, accurately and in a timely manner with the resources available. Their main responsibilities consisted of needs assessments on the ground, cleaning and removing debris from homes.
For Hayato Kimura, an alumnus of the TOMODACHI US-Japan Youth Exchange Program, it was his first time volunteering in disaster response efforts. “The experience taught me the important role volunteers play, and the difference between the information we obtain in Tokyo and the actual information on the ground. I am very much interested in participating in the future.”
For Kei Imai, an alumnus of the TOMODACHI ELS Program, who is also currently studying to become a nurse and has volunteered in past disaster areas, had been volunteering in Kurashiki in the earlier stages of the disaster and had come back to support and saw the changes take place that reconfirmed for him, “the importance of continuity.”
For Meina Takayasu, alumna of the TOMODACHI Microsoft iLEAP Social Innovation and Leadership Program, who will be joining the workforce next year, it was an eye opening experience on the types of volunteers who join these efforts. “[Most volunteers] were either retired people or social workers, and I didn’t see many people from the business sector. I want to be an adult who can be able to “act” like those who I met during this past few days.”
For Rio Fujii, an alumna of the TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program, confessed to having underestimated the skills necessary for successfully volunteering. However, due to her own experiences and observation of the passion and skills that each of the volunteers she met brought to the teams on the ground, she now understands that “It requires a lot of skills, knowledge, and love. I am really grateful for their work now.”
The TOMODACHI staff, as well as the alumni who volunteered in Okayama, offer prayers to the people who were affected by the disaster and wish them a quick restoration and recovery.
USJC and other Japan-related organizations are continuing to support those affected by the floods through the Japan Flood Friendship Fund. For more information, click here.
The TOMODACHI Alumni Disaster Resilience Training Program aims to build the capacity of young leaders of the TOMODACHI Generation to provide them with both practical skills and theoretical knowledge in the fields of disaster preparedness, disaster management, and psycho-social support.
The program is supported under the TOMODACHI Alumni Leadership Program sponsored by Prudential.