Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's Not Just Mud

I just stumbled across an interesting volunteer organization in Ishinomaki via a lip dub some of their members made. In spite of the silliness of the lip dub, It's Not Just Mud (INJM) is doing serious rebuilding work in the Tohoku region.

INJM was founded last year by Jamie El-Banna, a British former English teacher who had been working in Osaka. He told the BBC that prior to 3/11/11 he "had never done any volunteer work in [his] life." He didn't start out with the intention of forming a non-profit but things snowballed and they received official status as a non-profit this year.

I love that they have a F.U.E. (Frequently Used Excuses) list on their website that addresses the excuses people make for why they can't volunteer. I told myself for years that I was going to start volunteering when I had the time, but other than a few random bits of volunteering here and there, I didn't commit to long-term volunteering until I joined Tewassa this year. When I think of all the hours of my life I've wasted doing meaningless things, I'm sorry that I didn't start volunteering sooner! Check out their video in which volunteers answer the question, "Why did you volunteer?"

I enjoy working with Tewassa but feel that I'm still fairly disconnected from really understanding what people in the Tohoku area are going through.  This also seems to be common for Japanese in Japan who live outside Tohoku. Some of our members have delivered our quilts to schools in the area so they've been able to see things first-hand and talk to people directly affected, but for those of us who haven't gone on one of these deliveries yet, I don't think we can really grasp what they've been through and what the challenges are from the pictures and reports of other members.

I haven't been to Japan in nearly 25 years and I have to admit that my memories of my visits are dim and I have no recollection of living there (we moved to the US when I was two and a half). In spite of the fact that my memories of Japan are so fragmented and mostly exist in photographs, I was deeply saddened by the images of Japan in the aftermath of 3/11/11. I looked around for volunteer opportunities, but at the time, it was difficult to find English-language organizations looking for unskilled volunteers and it seemed the consensus was that it wasn't helpful for non-Japanese speaking volunteers without specialized skills (like search & rescue) to go because you'd be more of a burden than a help.

Things seem to have changed now that Japan is out of the initial crisis phase. I really like that INJM encourages people to volunteer with them regardless of their Japanese or English language abilities. They appear to do a good job providing information in both languages. I have my own special F.U.E. (multiple food allergies) for why it would be a bad idea for me to go to Japan, but perhaps I'll look volunteering with them at some point.

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