Volunteer Work Facilitated by the Tohoku District Disaster Relief Center

The Tohoku Disaster Relief Center was established soon after the earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011 and has operated out of the Tohoku District Center, which is known as the Emmaus Center. As of Nov. 14, 2011, there were 1,405 volunteers who had registered at the Emmaus Center to help with relief work. Initially, the relief efforts were focused on helping the survivors in Shichigo in the Wakabayashi Ward of Sendai City with mud removal, cleaning houses, and clearing debris from the fields. As the volunteers involved themselves in this work, they showed that while they were weak in the face of such destruction, they were not powerless to bring restoration. Likewise, they were there not merely to labor with the victims but also “to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Thanks to the “Rebuilding Strategy” announced by Sendai City, many residents have now decided to return to their homes, and there has been an increase in the number of requests for our volunteers to help.

Ishinomaki City, on the other hand, is one area where the realities are still grim, and the recovery process is lagging far behind. It takes approximately two hours by car to go from Sendai to Ishinomaki. We needed to establish a base of operations in the city, and one of our primary commitments during the summer was to establish a center there. The Kyodan Disaster Relief Planning Headquarters was able to buy a house from one of the survivors from Ishinomaki, and we quickly renovated the house to serve as the “Emmaus Center in Ishinomaki.” Since the summer of 2011, we have been able to carry on volunteer activities from this base of operations.

From the beginning, the Emmaus Center used the Internet to call on people nationwide to join in the relief efforts. The Center registered numerous volunteers, irrespective of whether the individuals themselves were Christians, and so approximately 70% of the volunteers who come to the Emmaus Center are not themselves Christians. The Emmaus Center has made a point of praying each morning before going to work and in the evening after coming back from work, as a way of expressing gratitude to God. In this way the volunteers are exposed to Christianity, which is at the heart of our relief efforts. Volunteers are housed in the local churches. For many volunteers, it is their first time to enter a church. Some even make a point of attending the Sunday morning worship services. The churches that have opened their doors to the Emmaus Center volunteers have hosted up to 150 persons as of November 2011. One church lost its parsonage and yet showed its gracious spirit by offering lodging to the volunteers.

During the summer, the number of volunteers was high, due to the fact that many of the volunteers were college students. Since schools are now in session, the numbers have decreased, but our efforts are being sustained by committed churches, schools, and organizations, as well as by individuals who repeatedly come back to join in the relief efforts. As we look ahead to a long and sustained relief process, our church-based relief efforts will become even more necessary. As the recovery process continues, the content of our work and the quality of our relatedness to the survivors will change. But despite the changes ahead of us, we will need to continue to “love our neighbor.” We will always continue to need “people” at the heart of our effort to walk alongside and to serve the survivors. (Tr. JM)

—Maekita Mio, Staff member
Kyodan Disaster Relief Planning Headquarters

 

「東北教区被災者支援センター(通称:エマオ)」

震災後すぐ東北教区センターに「東北教区被災者支援セン ター(通称:エマオ)」が立ち上がり、生活復興支援が始まりました。11月14日現在でのべ1405名のボランティアが登録していま す。

当初、地域にあって最も過酷な状況に置かれている方々のた めに何かできないかと仙台若林区七郷地区を活動の中心に、汚泥の除去や田畑の再生、屋内の清掃活動など津波被害を受けた支援活動を始 めました。彼らは「微力だけれど、無力じゃない。」復興のためだけに活動するのではなく、苦しみの中にある地域の人々とともに「共に 泣き、共に喜ぶ」姿勢をもって関わる事を大切にしています。仙台では9月22日に復興計画が出た事から地域に人が戻ってくるケースも 増え、ワーク依頼は増加傾向になっています。

一方、石巻は復興が遅れており、現在において最も過酷な状 況に置かれている地域の一つです。仙台から車で通うと2時間かかり、夏以降は長期的な支援をするために拠点を作る事が急務でした。こ の事から対策本部では被災家族から中古物件を購入し「エマオ石巻」と名付け、ここにもボランティアを派遣し支援活動を展開していま す。

エマオでは初期から県外ボランティアをインターネットで受 付し、積極的に受け入れた為クリスチャンに関わらず、多くのボランティアが登録しました。そしてその7割がノンクリスチャンの若者た ちで構成されています。彼らはワークに行く前も戻った折にも、神さまに感謝して、共に祈るエマオのスタイルを通じキリスト教に出会い ます。又、宿泊所として提供された「教会」に生まれて初めて足を踏み入れ、希望したものは礼拝にも参加します。主にエマオのボラン ティアの宿泊所として解放してくださった教会では11月まで平均して150名を受け入れ、中には牧師館が被災され大変な最中にあって も温かくボランティアを受け入れた教会もあります。

今まで主力メンバーであった大学生たちの夏休みが明け、ワーカーの数は減ってしまったものの、現在は各教 区の取り組みやリピーターによって支えられています。今後長期的な支援には、このような教会的な取り組みが不可欠です。復興が進めば 労働力だけでなく、関わりの形は変化していくことも考えられます。しかし、いつもいつでも隣人愛をもって、この震災の出来事を通し被 災されたお一人ひとりに仕えてゆく「人」が今もなお、必要とされています。 前北未央(救援対策本部主事)