Soup Run and Abuse
Dear Family and Friends,
As most of you know, all sales from my book, Letters from the Ground to the Heart, go to Imai Sensei’s NGO for the homeless, Yomawari. Unfortunately, book sales have been dire lately, so there have not been any funds to offer Imai Sensei’s ongoing, much-needed endeavor. However, the BIEM (Block Island Ecumenical Ministries), which is responsible for getting any book income to Sendai, very open-heartedly contacted the Roosa Fund about a grant. That wonderful organization most generously allowed us a tidy sum, over half of which, $3500, went right to Yomawari.
Recently I had time to volunteer at the Soup Run. At that time, I asked Imai Sensei if any money had come from America. His face lit up and he said, “Yes! Yes! We were so excited. Things like that don’t happen, especially out of the blue. So it was like manna from heaven. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!” he said over and over again. He had posted a letter of gratitude on the Yomawari blog, but had not been completely sure where the money had come from to thank them directly.
Because of the extra cash, today’s meal was particularly rich and nourishing. There were plenty of fresh vegetables, pork, and even baby sausages.
The miso for soup seemed more delicious than ever. And there was enough rice for everyone to come back for seconds and even thirds.
As usual I was impressed by how well everything was organized. Volunteers arrived on time and immediately plunged into the work of washing, chopping, and slicing. Everyone knew exactly what to so and did it with a blend of casual focus and merry laughter.
There were familiar faces and new, each eager to help in his or her own particular way.
After the food was prepared, we volunteers ate a small lunch before heading upstairs for a meeting with the homeless participants. The men were told what services were to be offer for them this month. Of course, they could ask questions. Then we served the meal.
Yomawari was actually founded by three gentlemen: Imai Sensei, Aoki Sensei, and Shiyomi San. All three share responsibilities, but Imai Sensei is the most public, going for interviews and conferences, doing close work with government officials, and constantly pushing to collect funds, get food, and run programs such as showers and laundry service. Aoki Sensei is his right hand man and is with him always.
Shiyomi San runs the counseling branch of Yomawari. He helps with jobs, housing, and medical care. Each of these men is truly an angel in human form, as are the volunteers who offer their selfless service week after week.
Imai Sensei told me about a recent scandal concerning the homeless. Several companies had been recruiting these vulnerable gentlemen to clean up the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. Their job included a daily wage, dormitory space, and meals. The terms seemed good, so many men headed to Fukushima and gave their all, despite the dangers of the job.
It seems foreign journalist came to have a look at what was evolving at Fukushima. While there, they learned that the homeless men were being very badly exploited. The company bosses, Yakusa connected, had taken half the promised wages for themselves. In addition, they had charged for room and board. So at the end of the month, the hardworking homeless men had received no pay.
Reports of this abuse appeared in European newspapers. That, of course, caused an uproar. But here in Japan nothing at all appeared in the news. However, once the scandal was exposed, Imai Sensei was interviewed about it. He pointed out that many men had left Sendai with the promise of legitimate work. But since they had been cheated, they were now flocking back. That means Yomawari’s responsibilities have increased ten-fold as it tries to assist the influx of disillusioned men.
And the recipients were indeed grateful. Every one of them came to us after eating, and bowed very low. “Thank you,” they said. “Thank you for today’s warm meal. Thank you for your ongoing, loving care for us. Without you, where would we be?”