International NGO, Peace Boat
In December 2004, a strong earthquake shook the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia and claimed 220,000 lives. It was followed by a huge tsunami which reached Sri Lanka and left 36,000 people dead or missing. On March 11, 2011, another catastrophe occurred, this time in Japan, taking an untold number of precious lives.
After the March 11 earthquake, Peace Boat started coordinating volunteers to engage in relief activities, mainly in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. We have already dispatched 2,000 volunteers, including 200 people from overseas.
Among them was the disaster management team from Sri Lanka, who arrived in the middle of May thanks to the coordination of the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Japan. Having experienced the Indian Ocean tsunami, they made a great contribution to the relief effort in the Tohoku region. The 15-member team included a heavy machinery operator, electrician, communications officer and chef, hailing from different parts of the country and bringing with them various skills. It even included a guitarist and drummer. The sturdy men cleared huge piles of debris from houses in Nakaura Town in Ishinomaki, which previous volunteers had been unable to remove. The team leader, Wickie, said, "We understand the victims' problems and what they want us to do, because we've experienced the same tragedy." They also held a concert of Sri Lankan music at an evacuation center in Minato Elementary School, which was attended by the Sri Lankan Ambassador. In his address to the audience, the Ambassador said, "I remember the Japanese medical team was the first to arrive in the disaster zone after the Sumatra earthquake. I've always wanted to repay your favor."
We also received great encouragement from India, another country struck by the December 2004 Earthquake. The women of the Auroville community sent us handmade dolls known as Tsunamika. The tsunami had deprived them of their husbands, who were fishermen. After months of grief and despair, the women decided to break with the past and stand on their own feet by making dolls with fabric remnants. After the March 11 earthquake, they were greatly troubled by the devastation in Tohoku, and offered the dolls to the Peace Boat crew who stopped by in India on their round-the-world voyage. The Tsunamika carry their heartfelt message: "We support the Japanese people going through great difficulty. Have faith in yourselves and you will recover from the disaster one day, just as we achieved self-reliance." The dolls will be delivered to disaster victims at charity events and soup kitchens in Ishinomaki, along with the message of encouragement from these distant well-wishers.
After the disaster, many overseas groups and individuals offered Japan help. Some experts and field workers say that Japan wasn't used to receiving help, although it had engaged in aid operations in many countries, and that there was some awkwardness about accepting it. As far as I'm concerned, however, assistance from overseas has played an essential part in the relief operations in the Tohoku region. Peace Boat received enormous help from abroad, from the Sri Lankan team who came to return a favor making use of their experience, from the Indian women who shared the same pain and sorrow with people in the affected areas, and from the more than 200 volunteers from 30 countries who rushed over to Japan after learning of the scale of the disaster. I believe their efforts will help to dispel misgivings about the situation in Japan and convey accurate information.
I intend to continue relief activities to help the reconstruction of the Tohoku region. I also want to utilize this experience to help people in difficulty elsewhere in the world, just as foreign volunteers supported the Japanese people in the aftermath of this unprecedented disaster.
* Peace Boat is seeking volunteers who can work in the disaster area or in Tokyo. Please contact us for more details
Peace Boat Emergency Relief Operation Center
TEL: 03-3363-7967 (10:00 - 19:00, Mon-Sat)
Born in Gunma Prefecture, Matsumura is a member of the international NGO, Peace Boat, in charge of the Global Article 9 Campaign of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC). She entered the disaster area shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck and has been engaged in relief operations ever since.