Volunteering at Yomawari
Recently I went to volunteer at Imai Sensei’s Yomawari Group. I had not been there for a while, and it was good to be back. The atmosphere there is always so welcoming and warm. This time I went with two friends. They had heard about Imai Sensei’s admirable efforts to serve the homeless, so they wanted to meet him.
“There are fewer people that come here these days,” Imai Sensei explained. “Many of the younger men are going to Fukushima to work at the nuclear plant. The conditions there can be really challenging, but they get a place to stay, food, and a bit of money. Also four of our once-homeless men have received training in agriculture and now work on an organic farm outside Sendai.”
Then he went on to say, “In this hot summer weather and with so few who come to eat (There were 25 that day.), we don’t cook now. Instead we order packaged lunches that are wholesome and filling. And we add some fruit for dessert.”
The members of Yomawari Group are extremely well organized, so things go like clockwork. Within minutes today everything was set up: tables for food and drinks, used clothes and living supplies, which included propane gas for portable stoves, rice, and mosquito coils.
The hungry guests waited politely outside until the dot of 12. Then they flocked in and politely accepted lunches, soup, and drinks. This time, more than usual, the men eagerly poured over used clothing. Some were surprisingly fussy about the condition of their choices. Collars had to be just right, for example, and shirts and trousers had to match. After selecting, some of the men immediately changed from their sweaty, rather grubby outfits to fresh ones, allowing them to face the world more presentably and with greater confidence.
As usual, Imai Sensei informed the men of jobs – currently for cleaning services – and warned them to watch their belongings carefully during the upcoming Tanabata festival. Literally thousands of visitors descend upon Sendai then, and the police strictly keep the streets impressive and orderly. Later in the afternoon there was assistance from a caseworker for those suffering from alcoholic addiction.
Imai Sensei and his business partner Aoki Sensei, plus all the loyal and committed volunteers really care about those they serve. And working with them is always very meaningful and uplifting. I only wish I could do more.