Regarding Tomoko Otake’s July 10 Timeout article, “Company team helps fill Tohoku gap“: I am a “long-term” volunteer who has been in Ishinomaki (Miyagi Prefecture) for almost a month, and have no plans to return to my home in Osaka in the near future.
Volunteer numbers in the disaster-hit Tohoku-Pacific region are falling, but there’s more to the story. Some volunteer centers — including a major one at Ishinomaki Senshuu University — no longer accept individual volunteers.
When I first came here, there were lots of people who had come under their own steam, and were put together with more experienced groups. They would usually end up joining those groups and work that way. It was as good a system as any. Not all people are Internet-savvy and some people found it hard to approach groups. Now, unless you are a Miyagi resident, you will be turned away if you are not part of a group. Not only that, the Volunteer Center here at the university now closes on Mondays.
I understand that people need days off, but surely it would be better to have a staff rotation system instead of shutting down for the day. It’s not so much that volunteers are taking flight, but rather that they are getting the message that they aren’t wanted. Lateral communication on the ground is poor at best, but what can you expect when there is little visible official presence?
The Volunteer Centers are, for the most part, staffed by volunteers. Often these volunteers are not trained or especially skilled in the areas of people management, problem-solving or disseminating information to those around them. They do the best they can, but why are they in this position to begin with?
There needs to be skilled individuals doing these jobs — people who can be here for the long term. Positions of this type should not be given out based on somebody’s seniority or length of service. This kind of thing is common in business, but when it comes to disaster relief, the stakes are a lot higher.
Volunteers from the private sector are very welcome in Tohoku. The end result is what’s important. If they put the work in, then let them have some publicity. The Japanese work culture makes it very hard for full-time workers to find time to come up here, so those companies that do enable their employees to do this are doing a great thing. I have seen Japanese superstars up here performing in evacuation centers, filmed by NHK. They also get great P.R. as a result, but do you think the families who have lost homes and loved ones care about that?
By all means, whether you work for NTT, Softbank, DoCoMo, ANA, whomever, come to Tohoku if you can. The people are more than happy to help your company get a good reputation. In exchange, all they want is help to get their lives back in order.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.