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Retail clerk finds meaning in service

Volunteer says aid to Sendai victims a moral imperative

Retail clerk finds meaning in service
Emi Imamura is a member of the staff at Kamaishi Base, which coordinates the efforts of Caritas Japan volunteers in the area correspondent, Tokyo

May 7, 2012

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Emi Imamura, 26, felt she was acting on a moral imperative when she decided to become a staff member of Caritas Japan’s Kamaishi Base, an operations center for disaster-relief volunteers in Iwate Prefecture. Her duties at the base, which operates out of Kamaishi Church about 440km north of Tokyo, include volunteer assignments, general office work and other tasks supporting Caritas’s mission. When the March 11 earthquake last year destroyed an outlet shop outside Sendai City where Emi was working as a retail clerk, she and her family escaped unharmed, but she was left with one thought: “I have to do something!” This feeling grew stronger with each passing day. “Every day I thought to myself that I ought to either open my wallet or else step up as a volunteer.” Last April, Emi took a solo trip to Hanamaki Onsen in Iwate Prefecture, but the hot springs getaway there had become a refugee shelter. While she was enjoying herself elegantly, two older women who had been affected by the disaster asked her, “Where did you come from? Were you OK [during the earthquake]?” Even the victims were showing their concern for others. When Emi returned home, she began to look for ways to volunteer. She learned about Caritas Japan on the Internet, noting that it provided water and meals, and offered places for volunteers to stay. And so, in late April she started a stint working at Kamaishi Base, which lasted a little over a month. At first, the work was focused on digging houses out of the mud and rubble removal. Each day more than fifty volunteers passed through the Base, but what struck Emi most was seeing the parishioners of Kamaishi Church working so hard to support the elderly, those who had come home in the wake of the destruction and other victims. “I thought, I’ve got to help, too.” So she quit her job and, in October, came on board as a staff member at Kamaishi Base. Emi doesn’t hold any particular religious beliefs herself. However, she Says she thinks that the prayer and sharing that goes on at the base every day is good. She also feels that her contact with church personnel has given her a strong connection to the church. “The food that the sisters make for us” keeps the volunteers in fighting form, Emi says, and hearing “thank you” and “keep up the good work” from locals is a great encouragement. “I want to stay here for as long as Kamaishi Base is around. Of course, I might leave if something changes, such that I’m no longer needed,” she says. “I really urge anyone who is interested in volunteering to get off the fence and come on in.” On her birthday last November, Emi was deeply touched by a surprise from her colleagues, who presented her with a birthday cake made out of sushi. “But when I opened the fridge to eat some more of it the next day, it was all gone!”
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