On our last day of volunteer work (December 1), we went to a temporary housing unit in the town of Yamada, just to the south of Miyako. As was the case on the previous day, this was a place I had visited on my first trip in October, and it was great to recognize people and be remembered.
I was asked to sit on the front porch of the community center and play my banjo while volunteers and staff went around to knock on doors and invite people to come out. Once we had a number of people come in to the building, we started the program. It followed the same pattern as the previous day: I did about 20 minutes of banjo while the residents were treated to lunch and coffee, and then the Robbins taught everyone how to make Christmas wreaths. After the program, the residents were given a chance to go through the winter clothes, scarves and hats that the Robbins brought to find something to take home.
It was great to have everyone sing along with me on a couple of songs! One was “Grandfathers Clock”, which has been known in Japan and given new life by popular recording artist Ken Hirai. The other tune was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, which is the most well-known Christian song in this country. It’s often sung at Christian-style weddings, which have become popular over the last few decades.
There was one major difference I noticed between the temporary housing units in Miyako and Yamada. In Miyako, which has a larger population and therefore many more of these units scattered within the city limits, there is a Social Welfare Cooperative Association which has responsibility for the buildings and the residents. On the previous day we saw a gentleman in an orange vest (visible in one of the pictures from yesterday’s blog), who worked for the association and made sure our event went smoothly.
In Yamada, however, things are structured differently. One of the residents of the temporary housing facility was chosen to be the Neighborhood Association president, and she connects with the town government and works with volunteer groups. This woman was there at our event on this day, and because she lives there she knew much more about this new, temporary community. She helped us as volunteers really connect with the residents!
The next day Matt and I were to head back to Fujisawa, and it seemed to us that the time in Iwate working as volunteers had gone by so quickly! We knew that we had done very little in comparison with the long-term needs of the victims of the tsunami. But we were grateful that we were part of a larger team: other volunteers who from right after the earthquake and tsunami keep going to the disaster areas to help out, pastors, missionaries and others who live in the area and work full-time in disaster relief, and generous people in a number of countries who have sent contributions to make possible the work that continues today. For me that especially includes people in Covenant churches in North America who have contributed through Covenant World Relief.