This is a guest post written by Laurence Hamdan. Laurence was a Long Term Volunteer at INJM in July-August 2012 and still assists INJM remotely during off time from his university duties.
One short stint in the Ishinomaki winter was nowhere near enough time to quench the volunteering thirst that INJM left me with. I’d come alone; the place was full, the work was plenty and the weather was freezing and I loved every second of it. I came back in summer of the same year and had an even more amazing time.
The summer in INJM is like one in its own time zone: the days are long, but the time goes fast. Everyone and anyone you meet instantly becomes your best friend; there are no acquaintances at INJM. When you spend so much time together eating, sleeping, working, bathing (everyone learns to love the Onsen) it’s difficult to think that you’re actually volunteering in a disaster zone at all. Volunteers are very often “doers” and not “sayers” so knowing that I was surrounded by people with similar perspectives to me helped keep me Ganbatte-ing and, more importantly, enjoying and challenging myself daily. Volunteers are only supposed to work five days out of seven but, because sometimes it felt like the “work” was too fun to be called that, after several consecutive days I’d lose count of how many I’d actually worked.
If you volunteer for longer periods, you will meet people from every corner of the globe. From the day you arrive your facebook account will get flooded with tons of friend requests from your new family and every other picture will be of you tagged in some hilarious working pose. Very often groups will be made up of Japanese speakers, English speakers and bilinguals, so there were very rarely times when communication was an issue. Lots of people come to INJM with no knowledge of Japanese and leave with a bizarre vocabulary that would impress any Japanese person. I know for sure that my knowledge of swear words and made-up Jenglish become pro.
I knew nothing about DIY or debris removal or anything useful at all. I thought I’d be useless and shadowed by professional carpenters and builders who could manage and be of real assistance. What I discovered couldn’t be further from the truth. Although there are people who genuinely know that they’re doing, they teach and guide the volunteers so that, after a short time, we could go off and become mini-leaders on other smaller projects. So, whether it was working on the daily missions, cleaning at home or cooking for the entire INJM house, it was easy to learn something new everyday
Everyone wants to volunteer, everyone wants to help and I know that I felt absolutely privileged to be one of the handful of people, through INJM, who were able to do something about it.