One of Japan’s most famous marathon runners, Mari Tanigawa, has been working with the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) as a board member and as a goodwill ambassador for their efforts to clear landmines. In early May, she joined the AAR teams in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures to deliver relief supplies and prepare hot meals for evacuees. She also tried to encourage the quake victims through sports, offering a lecture and stretching class at the Higashihama Elementary School in Ishinomaki (Miyagi Prefecture) and holding a mini-marathon class at an evacuation center on the Oshika Peninsula (also in Ishinomaki). The evacuees were enthusiastic and happy to have a chance to exercise with this sports legend. Not having exercised much over the past two months, the older participants tired quickly, but the children were able to hang in there with Ms. Tanigawa as they ran a mini-marathon by the sea. AAR also organized an adults-vs.-kids relay race (which the kids won as well). Getting people out and moving again is an important step for their physical and mental health.
A JEN volunteer reported on spending more than two weeks helping to clean up tsunami-damaged homes in the town of Ishinomaki. After having cleaned the first floor of one home, the owners were extremely grateful and decided to “pay it forward.” Having the extra space, the next day they invited a friend that was suffering from the stress of living in the evacuation center to come and stay with them. The volunteers were greeted with kindness and received many offers of tea. One family brought them tonjiru, a miso soup with pork and vegetables, in the evening to show their appreciation. The volunteer noted that they had met some people who were hesitant to ask for help in cleaning up, while others had asked but had not yet received help. It was useful to be there for an extended time since this volunteer was able to learn about the community and its complexities and develop relationships that allowed people to open up and ask for assistance. In that sense, they noted that JEN’s roots in the community were extremely helpful.