Volunteering – Kumiko
Dear Family and Friends,
Kumiko Suganami is involved in many activities in Sendai. She is a licensed translator, so has many opportunities to work with foreigners. She also works in a university that has overseas students, so she is kept busy helping them adjust to life in Japan. Besides that, also works closely with Japanese students, of course.
The earthquake and tsunami of 2011 left much devastation, which is still in the process of being cleared up. However, now the major form of discordance is actually more psychological than physical. Towns and villages along the coast were completely destroyed, and the survivors were scattered hither and yon. Some chose accommodation by themselves, while others opted to live in temporary housing provide by the government. Since entire communities were broken up, most of the displaced survivors feel rootless and alone. They had been connected to their neighbors for many generations, so living next to people they just met has been very disconcerting for many of these strongly tradition-bound folks.
Because of these problems, the local governments and NGOs have been working to psychologically and emotionally help survivors. So now there are many volunteer programs available. Since “therapy” in Japan often means providing mental and emotional diversion, rather than dealing directly with psychological issues, quite a few of the volunteer programs are for teaching purposes and involve students from local universities.
Kumiko has been involved in one group, which she herself set up. Almost every week she takes about 30 students from her university to Arahama, an area of Sendai wiped out by the tsunami. The students work mostly with children, giving lessons of all sorts. But adults get choral, handicraft, and hobby sessions as well. The student volunteer also arrange parties to which people from that area, now spread all over Miyagi Prefecture, can come together to be with their old neighborhood friends. Those are times of great healing for everyone.
Recently the Miyagi Prefecture government allotted more funding for volunteer activities. One reason is because children in particular are having a very hard time settling down. Their attention spans are short, and they do not feel as if they really belong anywhere. Likewise, many adults feel very unsettled and insecure, not knowing what kind of future is open to them. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is also an added worry for many folks in this area. If the agricultural and fishing industries become open to less expensive imports, there is a strong possibility that those sectors of the economy in this rural region would be totally wiped out. In other words, not many feel secure now. And the mental strain is being felt everywhere.