Volunteering in Year 5 since the 2011 Disaster

More than five years have passed since the earthquake and tsunami devastated much of eastern Japan in March 2011. Looking back on the past half-decade, we are listening to some stories and recollections from those we have been “walking together with,” one by one, since the devastation.
The following is a story from our second speaker in this series, Ms. Yoshiko Nakahara, who has been working as a volunteer at St. Timothy’s Support Center Onahama. Located in Onahama, Iwaki, Fukushima. The support center has been providing help to evacuees from the areas adjacent to Fukushima Daiichi who are still living in temporary housing.

“Volunteering in Year 5 since the 2011 Disaster”

Yoshiko Elisabeth Nakahara,
St. Timothy’s Church, Onahama

Soon after the 2011 earthquake, I was totally desperate and did not know what to do. Then, God opened up a new way of living for me—serving those affected by the earthquake as a volunteer. This was the first time I ever worked as a volunteer and at first I did not know how to serve people. Even after joining in the group of volunteers, I was still at a loss as to what to do and how to serve. Then, many clergy and laypeople of the three Anglican Dioceses of Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe) in the group kindly comforted me, though this was the first time I had ever talked to people from the three Dioceses in person. I was so nervous when I began to work as a volunteer.

I watched volunteers from the three Dioceses and, over time, learned how to serve. At “comfy cafés” in temporary housing, I delivered a cup of coffee to each person present, speaking to him or her sincerely, and introducing myself. Gradually, more residents of the temporary housing spoke with me. And each one of them gradually spoke to me in a confident voice. I was overjoyed, and often chatted with some residents of the housing so cheerfully that I was often mistaken for a resident. A certain lady always took my hand and said “Thank you, thank you,” yet I am the one filled with gratitude for what she said. She made me so very happy that I volunteered.

Then, some residents of the temporary housing formed their own group of volunteers— evidence that they were determined to take care of their own affairs and help others as well. As you know, they have experienced tremendous tragedies and have had a very difficult life since then. Still, they are willing to help others—a great attitude that moves me deeply.

Needless to say, over my five years of service as a volunteer, I have experienced grief.  When a friend and co-volunteer of mine passed away I was heartbroken. Whenever I was at a loss, she spoke warmly to me. I do believe that she is still with us, like a guardian angel.

At the temporary housing of Izumi-Tamatsuyu, “comfy café” meets twice every week, on Mondays and Fridays. A similar café at Hiruno, Watanabe Town, also meets twice weekly, on Thursdays and Saturdays. In all, I have the joy of serving people at four cafes every week. Today, I think I am the one encouraged by the temporary housing residents. I owe what I am today to my experiences as a volunteer. Without it, I might still be lost in feelings of hopelessness.

I have made many friends at the temporary housing where I serve. Who knows, they and I might need each other again someday, somewhere. They have survived unbearable griefs and tragedies. Together, we will spread the message of how valuable life is. As you live on, happiness can come to you. One day, a certain woman wept and wept with tears of thanks, saying, “Oh my, I am so happy and relieved to have you at this comfy, Ms. Nakahara.” Actually, I have had some unbearable experiences serving at the comfy cafes, but then her word of gratitude come back to me to remind me how thankful she was to me. Then, I thank God that I have been able to serve the comfy cafes as a volunteer.

I am certain that most residents of temporary housing are still worried over their future. Some have moved into new houses built for those affected by the 2011 disaster, yet no house can eliminate all their worries. No matter what kind of houses they live in, they need to share with others and face their worries in close friendships of trust.

Also, though we do see new houses and buildings constructed after the 2011 devastation, we have yet to see “rebuilding” of the minds and emotions of those affected. As time passes by, their sense of solitude grows deeper. I sure hope they will try to make more friends. During my years as a volunteer, I have made new friends who have been of precious help to me. Especially, I owe many thanks to the people of St. Andrew’s Church, Hitachi. Without their help, I would not have continued my service as a volunteer this long. Also, I owe much to the people of the three Dioceses of Kansai, who always help others with a lovely smile. Today, they sent some nice sweets and messages to my comfy cafes. My years as a volunteer will continue, and I certainly hope to “walk together” with all the people I serve.