Ryuki’s reflection on volunteering work in Hiroshima, affected area of recent heavy downpours and mudflowsTue, Sep 18, 2018
“I can’t thank you enough. Thank you, thank you so much for helping. I thought I’d never been able to find it,” said an old lady to me as she held her lost Buddhist altar covered in mud in her arms.
A few months ago in late June through mid-July, the southwest part of Japan was struck by devastating floods and mudflows caused by heavy downpours in the region. Many lost their lives and went missing as a result of the disaster. Well-known for the Japanese battleship Yamato, Kure of Hiroshima was one of the affected areas. As Kure also happens to be the naval base of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), many SDF personnel were activated to help out in rescue efforts, excavation and road maintenance work. As for me, I was in Kure for three days as a volunteer.
After days of heavy downpours, Hiroshima and the surrounding region experienced yet another unfortunate natural disaster – a series of consecutive hot days above 32 degree Celsius. Volunteers like myself had to help out with excavation and repair work under severe conditions. The weather was so unbearable that we had to take a break almost after every 15 minutes. Thankfully, the local landlords were kind enough to provide us with resting places and NPOs brought us refreshments such as watermelons to cheer us on. As such, I found the overall volunteering atmosphere friendly and warm. Barbers, restaurant owners, former SDF members, TV broadcast members, there were all kinds of people helping out at the sites. Looking at these volunteers reminded me of a day, a day in the past when I was an elementary school student.
When the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake broke out in 2011, my home in Sendai was part of the areas affected. Fortunately, as it was not located by the coast, my home suffered minor damage comparatively. At that time, many junior high school students a year older than me helped out with volunteering work. In addition, students from all over Japan outside the affected areas came to help too. Despite that, I was not one of them. Even though I was still an elementary school student, I feel that it gave me no excuse not to help especially when it was my hometown that was affected.
I did not really feel guilty for not helping out, not until I met this junior high school female volunteer from Yokohama. “Are you hurt? Is everything okay?” her kind words to me, the earthquake victim of the 2011 earthquake, made me feel calm and at ease. It was then I realized how much the words and solicitude of a volunteer can mean to disaster victims. Even now, I still vividly remember the moment she casted her magic words on me. Since then, I began to admire her and told myself to contribute back as a volunteer when the time comes. And there I was volunteering myself in Kure, Hiroshima.
On the last night of my volunteering work, I went to an Okonomiyaki restaurant for dinner. “You don’t have to pay for the meal. You know, you’re just like a son to me. It’s my treat,” said the owner of the restaurant with a big smile on his face. It was a wonderful and heartfelt moment. Before flying off the following day, I told myself I would always remember the priceless experience and encounters I had in this little chapter of my life.
Second year student at School of Political Science and Economics