All Hands for Japan
Here in the UK, we can’t really comprehend how an earthquake, hurricane or tsunami could destroy everything we have in a matter of minutes. Our little island may be grey and drizzly, but we’re lucky that we live in a safe part of the globe. Sadly, the Japanese are not so lucky, and this was exposed in the most devastating way by the gigantic tsunami of March 2011.
I lived in Japan for five years, two of which were spent in Fukushima, so even though I was back in the UK when the wave struck, I naturally wanted to help. A number of volunteer organizations were operating in the affected area, so I assumed that joining one would be pretty straightforward. Not so. Although I explained that I had lived in Japan, spoke Japanese and was prepared to work my guts out and pay my own way, believe it or not I was refused by every volunteer organization I approached. Except one. All Hands Volunteers is an amazing organization, and I’d like to tell you about what makes them so special, and why they could really use your help.
All Hands arrived in the town of Ofunato amid chaos and devastation just days after the tsunami. Using its experience of other disaster relief projects such as the Boxing Day tsunami and the Haiti earthquake, All Hands was quickly able to mobilize both local and international volunteers to begin work on laying the foundations for rebuilding Tohoku. We did this by clearing sludge and debris from drainage canals, enabling water to flow away from people’s houses and preventing localized flooding. We gutted houses, which means removing waterlogged, rotten drywall and insulation, leaving behind only the healthy wooden structure for the carpenters to rebuild. We took a park which had been razed by the waves and we planted trees and flowers, fitted swings and slides so that the local children had a beautiful place to play. We rebuilt and cleaned a temple and cemetery, allowing people to grieve in peace. We salvaged and cleaned photographs and returned them to their owners; photos that were sometimes the only reminder of a loved one taken by the tsunami. The work was physical, often emotional, and always inspiring.
After gutting dozens of houses, clearing several kilometers of road and cleaning thousands of photos, All Hands has made a real impact in Tohoku. All Hands is also great in the way that they welcome anybody who is willing to get themselves to base camp and work hard. With no participation fee and no maximum volunteer quota, the All Hands model is very flexible - if you are prepared to provide the will, they provide the way. Which brings me to the second thing I wanted to say. Such a flexible model is great for volunteers, and it gives a massive boost to relief efforts in the disaster zone, but it is difficult to sustain. It’s becoming harder and harder for All Hands to continue to support communities affected by natural disasters in this way. The Pay It Forward campaign is a way for volunteer alumni like me to raise money so that All Hands can continue. Please take the time to look at my fundraising page for more details, and remember that any donation is a helping hand for people whose lives have been ripped apart by a natural disaster.
All Hands operates wherever natural disasters occur, and projects in Haiti and the Philippines are ongoing. Sadly, natural disasters have occurred throughout Japan’s history, and it’s likely that the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami was not the last. I hope you can help by giving what you can so that All Hands can be there for Japan in the future, too. Thank you.
My fundraising page: http://www.justgiving.com/AllHandsPhil
All Hands: http://hands.org/
All Hands Project Tohoku (video): http://hands.org/projects/past-projects/project-tohoku/