One of the things I’ve found most difficult about long-term volunteering is other people’s reaction to it. Usually you get a gushing response along the lines of … oh-that’s-so-amazing-I-wish-I-could-do-that-but-I-haven’t-got-the-time/money/couldn’t-live-in-those-conditions. As an English person I am genetically unable to deal with compliments and tend to respond by blushing and mumbling and trying to change the subject.
Sure its a great thing to do but don’t think for a second we’re all stoically plodding through the hardship of each day and shivering ourselves to sleep at night, hungry after a single bowl of rice. Japan is being good to us. Fantastic in fact. Most of the volunteers here love the work. Its dirty and difficult and you come home smelly and aching but the sense of satisfaction is huge.
One of my most favourite friends said of volunteering on Project Leogane; “we move houses with our bare hands”. Here we move the broken bits of many houses out of the places they were swept into by the tsunami.
This visible progress is reward enough in itself but there is more. The camaraderie between the volunteers really is something else. We are a family here in Sakari. Evenings in the common room are a babel of voices, maybe a movie, a couple of beers, leftovers from dinner, even jellybeans sometimes.
Life is intense in a disaster zone. To look around this part of Japan right now is to see that everything you think you have can be taken away in an instant. Luxuries fall by the wayside and appreciation for the simplest things intensifies as you’re constantly confronted by visual reminders that some have less. Much less. People have survived a tragedy and, while we must always take care to be respectful, they want to celebrate life.
We live, work and play together and in the midst of the destruction we find peace. So don’t think we do this entirely selflessly. This is a different world and we love it.