May 4, 2011

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This week is the traditional “Golden Week” holiday in Japan, and many Japanese people are taking advantage of their time off to volunteer in the Tohoku region. As described in a recent Japan Times article, many groups are trying to organize the outpouring of concern into practical assistance for the region by taking advantage of these “holiday volunteers.” JEN is one such group, and it has organized brigades of volunteers to remove mud and debris, help residents clean up homes, and deliver supplies to temporary housing in the Ishinomaki vicinity this week.

KnK Japan (Children without Borders) is a member of Japan Platform that is currently in its second phase of earthquake assistance (mid-April through the end of June), helping schools in Iwate Prefecture. Their focus is on schools in 5 communities, and they have been able to secure donations to provide the following aid: Yamada—gym suits and shoes for students, 1 PC for teachers, 6 school buses, and renovation of 2 buildings to house 15–20 teachers who lost their homes; Otsuchi—4 school buses, educational materials, wall partitions to create class rooms inside a gym; Kamaishi—uniforms, gym suits, shoes, dishes for school lunches, 7 school buses, 1 PC, and wall partitions; Ofunato—1 school bus, desks and chairs for teachers; Rikuzentakata—water and sanitation system for schools. They have also distributed 3.5 tons of small items (blankets, diapers, sports equipment, chocolate, etc.) and are helping a newly established NGO in Rikuzentakata. Plans are now underway for a third phase as well.

As part of its ongoing efforts to help relieve evacuees’ stress and help them recover from the trauma they experienced, the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) brought two well-known comedic actors to perform at elementary schools and evacuation centers in one of the hardest-hit areas, the Oshika Peninsula. Prior to a show at an elementary school, the principal noted how many of the children are still frightened by the constant aftershocks and tend to show very little emotion. The actors, who are known for their vaudeville-type act and ability to mimic animal sounds—from dogs and frogs to zebras and rhinos—were able to help them forget their worries for the moment, bringing huge smiles to the faces of children and adults alike. In fact, the principal said, “That’s the first time since the earthquake that I’ve seen the children smile like that!”