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Nagoya volunteer group goes the distance to help 3/11 disaster victims

Chunichi Shimbun

In the 2½ years since the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Nagoya-based Aichi Volunteer Center has continued its activities in disaster-stricken areas of Tohoku, earning the gratitude of local residents for its unwavering efforts.

By constantly visiting those zones, the group has kept itself updated on the ever-changing problems faced by victims of the quake-tsunami disaster, and delivered the exact type of aid required.

A volunteer bus that regularly leaves Nagoya bound for areas in the northeast on Aug. 30 marked the 100th such trip. The group’s perseverance has won the trust of Tohoku residents.

When the bus arrived in the Kugunarihama district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, residents greeted group members by telling them, “Welcome home.”

The group has made Kugunarihama its local operations base since June 2011. In the beginning, the bus would travel down every week, but the number of trips became fortnightly starting this year.

“The number of volunteers has decreased as time passes, but the people from Aichi continued to come and volunteer here,” said Kenichi Numakura, 68, who worked as liaison between the group and Kugunarihama.

Aichi Volunteer Center was established March 17, 2011, six days after the quake-tsunami catastrophe, by young residents and teachers in Aichi Prefecture who had experience in helping children orphaned by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Three days after the group was formed, its members decided to visit an elementary school in Ishinomaki that had been converted into a temporary shelter, to find out what the victims needed.

Most of them requested spring clothes, so the group went back to Nagoya and organized a charity event, returning to Ishinomaki the following weekend with the donations they had gathered. In the same way, they frequently visited other shelters to compile lists of items needed and then returned to Nagoya to round up supplies.

“We went every week, so we were very aware of the changing needs faced by the people living in the shelters,” said the leader of the group, 29-year-old Yoshiaki Kuse.

After supply lines to disaster areas began to flow more freely, the group turned to helping remove tsunami rubble in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. At the same time, it also started delivering items to small shelters on the Oshika Peninsula, administered by Ishinomaki and Onagawa. Kugunarihama was one of those shelters.

The group started the Kugunari Dining Hall in September 2011 in the common room of one of the temporary accommodations in the area. By providing a place for people to eat lunch together, they hope to alleviate the loneliness felt by the elderly living alone at such facilities.

The restaurant is only open Saturdays.

When the group visits Kugunarihama, Kuse walks around and visits different households. One of the people he talked to was a man in his 70s who had lost his wife to the tsunami.

“I would have given anything to have my wife back. I wish I had died in her place,” the man told Kuse.

Kuse said: “Listening to them talk is a way (for me) to heal their wounds. We’ll continue running the hall for as long as the temporary housing stands.”

The volunteers on the 100th bus trip, which departed Shinshu Otani-ha Nagoya Bestuin in Nagoya and put on the Kugunari dining hall the following day, returned home Sunday.

For more information on signing up for volunteer work, please visit the group’s home page at aichiborasen.org (in Japanese).

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published in the Aug. 29 evening edition.