Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Volunteering -- Safety Precautions

Got a call from Damian Penston this morning, who is concerned that many groups doing clean-up work in the affected areas may not be conscious of health risks associated with asbestos and other contaminants they are likely to be exposed to if working near destroyed buildings, etc.

This is a reminder that if you are volunteering in a disaster zone, it is imperative that you take responsibility for conducting your own thorough research on the health risks associated with the work you will be doing, assessing the dangers, and taking appropriate precautions.

That said, here are a few recommendations gathered from different sources.

1. If you are near broken buildings and there is any risk of asbestos dust, please wear a dusk mask with at least an N95 rating. HEPA filter masks are best. Here is an article that touches on the risks.

2. Depending on the conditions where you are working, there may be broken glass, exposed rusty nails, and other hazardous debris. Please consider obtaining boots with steel toes. It is also possible to purchase metal insoles to insert in the bottom of your boots to prevent puncture. If your boots are rubber rather than leather, remember that a nail can still puncture the side of the boot and watch where you step.

3. A tentanus shot booster is recommended. Even a small cut or wound can lead to tetanus.

4. Even if you are just clearing mud in fields and not working around a lot of debris, I recommend rubber or leather gloves over cotton ones. The dust goes right through cotton gloves and will desiccate and irritate your hands over time.

5. Other recommended items include helmets, goggles (especially if you wear contacts), long sleeve rain gear, towels (worn around the neck), whistles (for summoning help in an emergency), etc. This link (Japanese) illustrates guidelines for outfitting yourself. Once again, you must decided how much of this gear is appropriate to the conditions in the area where you are working.


6. When you finish working, it is always recommended that you wash up thoroughly and gargle.

Here is a link to one source of affordable safety gear (thanks, Sandi!):

5/23 - This just in from Damien:
"It is also important to note that individuals with facial hair should not participate in asbestos removal, as protective gear may not fit properly and potentially expose them to loose particles."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Charity Futsal Cup

5-A-Side Charity Football, Friday June 10th with all proceeds going to Foreign Volunteers Japan to support the Tohoku Relief Effort.

Tournament hosted and sponsored by IFG Asia Limited and Footniks.

Date : Friday June 10th from 6pm – 10pm

Venue : Think Park Futsal Court, Osaki Station. Near Footniks in Osaki

Teams : 8 Teams of 5 people with subs (one female per team)

Games : Minimum 4 games for each participating team

Entry Fee : Y3,000 per player

Awards Ceremony and Prize Draw at Footniks after the Event

Prize Draw includes fabulous prizes including sports gear, meal vouchers, a case of beer and bottles of wine

Footniks will donate Y200 to FVJ for each drink purchased

Spectators very welcome.
Full poster after the jump:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Volunteering in Iwanuma

Here is some more specific information about volunteering in Iwanuma, where our team spent a week clearing mud during Golden Week.

The Iwanuma VC is very welcoming to international volunteers and there were staff members who spoke some English. Here is the essential volunteering information and FAQ (scroll down for English.)

Much of the work clearing mud from homes is finished in Iwanuma, but people still need help clearing their fields and gardens. The 2 cm crust of sludge must be removed with shovels and wheelbarrows and piled near the road so that it can be trucked away. Even after the sludge is gone, it will take several seasons for the rain to flush out enough salt from the soil for crops to be grown.

Recently, there are approximately 150-300 volunteers per day. Most work clearing mud and debris. Other activities include helping evacuees move into temporary housing, sorting supplies, washing photographs, etc. Job matching takes place in the morning beginning at 8:30, and once again in the afternoon. It is possible to volunteer for full or half days.


Here is the location of the Iwanuma VC.

Trains to Iwanuma are running. It is a 20 minute walk to the VC from the Iwanuma train station. The train takes around 23 minutes from Sendai station. Shinkansen and air access to Sendai has also been restored. There are a number of Youth Hostels in Sendai if you wish to commute from there, but we recommend staying in Iwanuma. It is roughly a 40 minute drive to Iwanuma from Sendai.


There is a park next to the VC where volunteers can camp, and volunteers are also welcome to sleep in their vehicles in the VC parking lot. There is a restroom and tap in the park, and information posted on nearby bathhouses. It is useful to have a car to get to the bathhouses, but if you are coming by train you can probably gang up with fellow volunteers to get a ride to the baths.

The Hotel Harada has rooms for 6000 yen per night, Internet and parking included, and is a 20 minute walk from the VC.

ホテル原田 Hotel Harada

〒989-2442 宮城県岩沼市大手町3-18

Miyagi-ken Iwanuma-shi Otecho 3-18

TEL 0223(24)2525(代)

FAX 0223(24)6761

The Momokou Ryokan (桃幸) has rooms for 5000 yen per night. It has a small parking lot. It is a 20 minute walk to the VC.

Miyagi-ken Iwanuma-shi Nakao 1-chome 1-1

TEL: 0223-24-1101

Please see the previous post for information regarding insurance, gear, etc.

Tohoku Needs Volunteer Help Now!

Clean-up crew in Iwanuma breaks for lunch, including FVJ members Jade, Sandi, Rajesh, and Camellia.

The Golden Week rush is over and volunteer numbers have dropped off steeply, but there remains a lot of work to do in the tsunami-affected zones in Tohoku.
 If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to get involved, this is the time!

Much of the work consists of clearing debris and sludge left behind by the tsunami. The tsunami has left a 2-3 cm crust of sludge on everything it touched. The SDF has cleared roads and public areas, but private property such as homes and fields must be cleared by hand, with shovels and wheelbarrows. The sludge and debris is piled near roads, and power shovels and dump trucks will later come to collect the piles. When it is too dry, the sludge turns to dust, crumbling and spreading and filling the air. Too wet and it becomes mucky and heavy. For that reason, it is imperative that as much sludge as possible is removed in the next few weeks, before the rainy season arrives, followed by the summer heat.

What to bring:

1) Volunteer Insurance (fukushi hoken) http://www.fukushihoken.co.jp/

Volunteer insurance not only covers medical care if you are injured while volunteering, it also covers costs if you damage someone else’s property or cause someone else to be injured. It is very affordable, ranging from around 500 to 1500 yen for 1 year’s coverage. Be sure to get natural disaster (saigai) coverage. You can acquire it at your nearest branch of the Japan National Council of Social Welfare.

2) Gear – If you are shoveling sludge and removing debris, you’ll need rubber boots and leather or rubber gloves and some good dust masks (a rating of N95 is recommended.) If you wear contacts, be sure to bring safety goggles. Boots with steel toes and/or metal insoles to prevent puncture injuries are best, depending on the environment in which you’ll be volunteering. If possible, find out as much as possible about the specific conditions where you will be working.

Other recommended materials include: shovels, buckets, towels, hat or helmets, long sleeves, long pants, rain gear.

3) Food, water and gasoline – in the early weeks following the disaster, volunteers were encouraged to bring all of their own provisions so as not to burden local supplies of food and gasoline. In most areas, this is no longer necessary, and buying food and water locally is in fact better for local businesses. You should pack a lunch each day when volunteering, though sometimes there is free food available for volunteers that is contributed by independent charities.


1. Be discreet about taking pictures. Do not take pictures of disaster victims, evacuation centers, and private property.

2. When in doubt, err on the side of maintaining a solemn demeanor. You may be in the presence of people who have lost their loved ones, homes, livelihood, etc.

3. When in doubt, inquire before throwing things away. Letters and photographs can be collected for restoration by the owner or at the VC.

Where to go:

A number of Volunteer Centers are once again accepting out-of-prefecture volunteers. This list is current as of 5/13/2011, but be sure to check the VC’s latest information before heading out.


Kessennuma VC

Ishinomaki VC

Iwanuma VC* (some English)

Higashi Matsushima VC

Watari VC**

Yamamoto VC

Tagajo VC

Sendai VC

Shiogama VC

* Tents can be set up in park near VC. Volunteers can sleep in vehicles in parking lot near or opposite VC.

**Tents may be available to borrow.


Soma VC*

Minami Soma VC*

--> 5/17 New website for Minami Soma VC

Shinchi VC*

*out-of-prefecture volunteers are accepted if able to secure local accommodations. Please do not sleep in vehicles or tents.


Inquire here for more information:

岩手県社会福祉協議会 地域福祉企画部 ボランティア・市民活動センター

Sunday, May 8, 2011

All Hands Tohoku Project: Hiring Volunteers from May 11th to 17th

I’ve been up in Ofunato, Iwate for the last two weeks with the All Hands Tohoku Project. I haven’t done many posts about the experience yet, because the group had hit full capacity for their volunteer projects through to the end of the month.
However, All Hands Tohoku Project is now recruiting 10 volunteers for the period of May 11th through May 17th.

All Hands Tohoku Project Volunteers working at a box factory hit by the tsunami.

After having worked with them for the last two weeks up here in Ofunato and Rikuzen-Takata, I really have to convey deep appreciation for the amazing work that they have been doing, and highly recommend volunteering with them.
The core focus of their current project involves individual recovery projects focused on local businesses, individual homes, schools and even local government facilities that had been badly damaged by the tsunami. Much of this work involves debris removal, shoveling tsunami sludge, using ropes and pulleys to remove cars that were deposited in strange locations, using carpentry tools to remove floor boards in traditional Japanese homes so that the  tsunami sludge can dry out safely, and then using buckets and shovels to clear out that sludge.
There are many more projects underway.
I’ll post much more information tomorrow,
But please consider applying ASAP if any of the above is of interest to you.

Here is a detailed PDF of the All Hands Tohoku outline:
The application form has been taken offline (since the original capacity of volunteers has been filled – In order to apply, please send an email to

including the following details:
1)   Your name
2)   When you would be able to volunteer (ideally between May 11th to 17th)
(People who can only volunteer for a couple days of this will also be considered.)
3)   Your travel plans, and probably arrival time.
4) Where you heard about this opening/How you heard about All Hands. 
Further details will be included in a reply email from All Hands: Project Tohoku.
All Hands volunteers during Golden Week
For Japanese volunteers: