Church relief activities following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan have relied in large part upon volunteers from all over Japan and foreign countries recruited and coordinated by Caritas Japan. The work of the volunteers has so far been largely, though not solely, focused upon cleanup efforts.
|A view of Kirikiri |
Volunteers from a Caritas base camp at the church in Kamaishi go to nearby communities like Kirikiri to clean houses for elderly residents overwhelmed by the task of clearing muck, broken glass and ruined furnishings from homes that were inundated by the tsunami but remain more or less inhabitable. A crew that had cleared one home was asked by neighbors if something could be done for their garden, so a crew spent two days getting it ready for replanting.
|Volunteers take a lunch break in Kirikiri. At the right is Fr. Haruo Someno |
Kyoya Chiba is a Catholic from the Mizonokuchi parish in Kawasaki, a city between Tokyo and Yokohama. "At our church, we collected money for Caritas and many people wanted to come and help but couldn’t. We heard that human help was more needed than things. So, I’m here as a sort of parish representative and the support of my parish is an encouragement."
|The tsunami left part of a house resting on top of another house in Kirikiri across the street from where the volunteers take their break |
Talking about why he decided to come, he added, "I always feel that I am being given life by God. So many people here died suddenly, so I want to do something for those who’ve lost hope in life. I want to strengthen them with my conviction that our lives come from God." Another member of the cleaning crew was Passionist Father Haruo Someno who usually serves the Ikeda Church in Osaka. He took a week off to help out in the Kamaishi area.
|Caritas volunteers clear debris, stones and salt-water-polluted topsoil from a Kirikiri garden |
"I was born and baptized here, and lived here until I was five," he said. "To be able to work on behalf of people among whom I was born is a sort of joy for me." He added, though, "Things are worse than I thought. Everyone is working to improve the situation, but how can we shine the light of the Gospel on this? It will take time, and we must individually and as a community take that time. God is at work here, but finding out how is going to be a challenge that must be met."
|Volunteers nearing end of two-day cleanup |
Not all the volunteers are Catholics. One of those who is not is Tom Tracey, an American who lives in Kanagawa prefecture and works for a company whose owner has encouraged his employees and clients to volunteer through Caritas. "When I was younger, I did a lot of volunteer work. Boy Scouts and that sort of thing. Then I got too busy and got out of the habit," he said. "This reminds me of an earlier time in my life. My first reason to come was to do hard labor, but I got to meet people and interact with them."
|Volunteers at evening sharing session. Tom Tracey in center |
A special feature of volunteering with Caritas is a nightly reflection period during which volunteers share experiences and reactions to what they saw and did during the day. Some talk about how life-changing the experience of seeing the disaster, meeting the people and serving has been. Tracey commented on the sessions.
|Volunteers at evening sharing session. Kyoya Chiba is second from right |
"Caritas is a safe environment where we can lower our barriers and just be human. Everyone comes with the same desire, to help people." He summed up the feelings of many of the volunteers. "This won’t end tomorrow. It’s years’ worth of work. We’re all here to be helpful. I think I’ll be back." JA14209