Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Saving up for a Tractor for Minamisanriku.

 Foreign Volunteers Japan member, and regular contributor to the disaster relief efforts in Minamisanriku, Dru Taylor has spotted a great find. He says that he's "trying to buy this tractor or something similar so we can get people growing their own fruit and veg in and around Minamisanriku with OGA for AID. We can really make a huge difference with a tractor like this. Any offers ? especially for funding ." He said he's "willing to drive it at a sponsered rate per KM to raise funds to take it to its final destination after purchase." 

He said that the tractor will go to be used on "land suitable for farming but not being used at the moment (in Minami-Sanriku) that has been offered for use." OGA for AID is a phenomenal project set up in Minami-Sanriku and organized by the Ortiz family who have expanded a wide disaster relief and charity network centered around the Ortiz International School. 

As the tractor is up for auction, there is a chance that it could sell quickly, so we'll need to act quickly to raise funds. The tractor is up for auction in Japan for 998,000 yen (Approx $8000 USD or 5000 pounds.) , which should be manageable if enough people are interested in this project.  If you are interested in helping acquire a tractor for the people of Minamisanriku, please contact us at foreignvolunteersjapan (at), and we will get you in touch with Dru and the team at OGA for AID soon after.

Great idea Dru! Hope we can help you pick up the tractor!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back to Rikuzentakata

* Written by Rob Keyworth

 Rikuzentakata in mid-May by Foreign Volunteers Japan
Rikuzentakata in mid-May a photo by Foreign Volunteers Japan on Flickr.

Well, it's been nearly two months since our last trip north and today Andy and I took advantage of the last day of the JR special pass and headed north to Tohoku. It was a long but ultimately rewarding day - up at 4, home at midnight and in the middle we'd managed to drop off 1.5 tons of food to where it was needed. But as ever that doesn't begin to explain the journey we had.

We've been planning this trip for a few weeks but had a number of difficulties in arranging the fresh food that we wanted. Our previous suppliers were unable to provide the size of order that we needed and they introduced us to a wholesalers who were happy to provide what we needed but we were unable to provide the documentation in time. And in the end we spoke to the Amazing Paul Yoo of 'The Fruit Tree Project' ( and he introduced us to a supplier in Kesennuma who was only too happy to provide us with 250,000 yen's worth of fresh produce. So Andy and I set off this morning to Ichinoseki on the brilliant JR pass (10,000 yen day trip, ends today - why?) where we picked up the truck and headed to Kesennuma.

Our supplier was simply superb and had our entire order ready to be picked up when we turned up at around 11am and had most of his staff ready to load up the truck for us. A short time later we had 250,000 yen's worth of carrots, potatoes, onions, daikon, leeks, oranges and apples loaded on the truck and we were nearly ready to go. There was a slight delay as the owner then raced around the store to get some supplies for the drivers. After looking at us he decided we had way too much healthy food in the truck so he came back with a bag full of chocolate, crisps and a couple of bottles of water and we were on our way - what a star!

On the drive in to Kesennuma I again realized what I've missed over the past 15 years. The area was, and in many places, stunning. Beautiful mountains, beautiful country scenes. Idyllic.

250,000 yen worth of fruit and vegetables bound for Rikuzentakata.
We drove the few extra kilometres into Kesennuma and Andy wondered if there was a race track nearby as there was a smell that  was very strong smell in the area. It took us a while to realise that that was actually the smell of the town. The smell of rotting houses, rotting fish, rotting everything.

The last time I was in Kesennuma we skirted around the most devastated areas and this time we had to drive right through it. What was surprising was that although the majority of the ships that had been stranded ashore had been moved, the homes and businesses looked very similar to what we had first season at the end of March. It was as though they'd been forgotten.

The major difference between now and then was the temperature. My first visit to Kesennuma and it was trying to snow. Today it was 30 degrees. Which creates a whole new set of problems.

Our initial plan was to drive from Kesennuma to Rikuzentakata and drop off aid at the temporary housing. However, for whatever reason we were unable to find the temporary houses and ended up in Rikuzentakata.

A bit lost, a bit confused, but also genuinely stunned. On my last visit there was 7-8 km of devastation and I genuinely thought that it would take years to clean up. If you haven't been there, it's difficult to explain the current situation but there has been massive progress; There are mountains of wood, steel, rubber. A field with hundreds (thousands?) of cars that have been destroyed but all put together. It's almost unrecognizable from the fields of devastation from two short months ago. It's still bad. It's still very, very bad. But on the surface at least, it is improving. We went looking for shelters/temporary housing where we could deliver our supplies. We dropped off at a couple before heading to the main distribution center who gladly took what we had left. It was unfortunate that we were unable to deliver directly to the temporary housing but due to time constraints this was simply impossible. We did manage to deliver 1.5 tons of food for which the people were very grateful.

As ever, there are many people to thank for making this happen.

IFG for donating some of the money raised from the Futsal tournament. And everyone who attended.

The Black Lion and all of it's customers who supported the Big Iwate Drive and the Books sales.
Paul Yoo for the introduction and his supplier for making it happen.

Thank you for your support. And please keep helping us and everybody else that is trying to help.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

NPO: ON THE ROAD with FRIENDS- Looking for volunteers

The volunteer rate up in Tohoku has fallen quite dramatically following Golden Week. That was expected of course, but the sharp decline has left some serious manpower shortages for various projects. During Golden Week (May 2nd-8th) there were 54,100 volunteers up in Tohoku, yet only 24,100 volunteers for the week ending June 5 -- a drop of nearly 45%. As a result, I will begin profiling various NGOs looking for volunteers over the next couple weeks. Feel free to post about others in the comments section. 

This week's entry is about an interesting volunteer organization based up in Ishinomaki.

The group is called ON THE ROAD with FRIENDS. They are a Japanese NPO that seems to fall somewhere between Peace Boat and ALL HANDS in regards to their operational structure, and how they manage their volunteer teams. Before taking up the Tohoku cause, ON THE ROAD had set up school building, charity and food distribution projects in India and Jamaica, and their experience shows in how they've managed to set-up and scale-up their operations in Ishinomaki.

Their general project focus includes “cleaning fallen furniture due to the earthquake, as well as mud and debris that flowed into houses from the tsunami, preparing meals at the evacuation centers, and organizing and delivering relief goods…. Although participation for a long time would be preferable, even participation on the weekend or for a week would be okay.”
ON THE ROAD’s chief director, Ayumu Takahashi says that “Aid activities do not require a showy performance and demonstrations. All we have to do is to continue doing what we are requested to do silently and consistently on the spot. We are waiting for the volunteers who can work with us together with such a strong will.”
Volunteers with them are to camp out in the `volunteer village` that they have set-up on a camp ground near Tajiri station, in Osaki city, Miyagi prefecture.

Here is a YouTube video detailing some of the work that ON THE ROAD has been doing:

Friday, June 10, 2011

55% of donations not reaching victims in Japan

I paid my taxes, tried to raise my kids right.. now in my time of need I wait and wait...
Less than half of the more than 80 billion yen in disaster-relief donations already sent to prefectures affected by the March 11 quake and tsunami has reached the hands of people waiting for urgently needed cash to rebuild their shattered lives, it has been learned.

Although a committee tasked with distributing cash donations to survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake has decided how to hand out the second batch of payments, only 45 percent of the money already sent to 15 affected prefectural governments has reached people's pockets. The slow progress in the distribution of donations is largely seen as due to the loss of family registries and residents' certificates in the tsunami, as well as a lack of staff in the affected areas.

Earthquake survivors are counting on these funds to buy the cars, refrigerators and other goods needed to put their lives back on track. They also need money to secure jobs and places to live.
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry about 82.3 billion yen has been sent to 15 prefectural governments by the four organizations involved in the committee in charge of donation distribution. Only about 37 billion yen, or 45 percent, has reached the disaster survivors.

The donation panel comprises the Japan Red Cross Society, Central Community Chest of Japan, NHK and the NHK Public Welfare Organization, in addition to the 15 prefectures.

According to the Miyagi prefectural government, 33.1 billion yen in donations sent by the committee was disbursed to 34 city, town and village offices as of Monday. The municipalities, however, have paid out only about 9.3 billion yen, or 28 percent, as of Friday.

"We lost our car in the tsunami and we can't buy a new one to get on with our lives without money. I hope the donation money arrives as soon as possible," said a 64-year-old unemployed man who is living at a shelter in Higashi-Matsushima.