Giving Back in Japan: A Year Later
Junior field hockey player Gabby Tarbert spent her spring break in Japan with a group of Washington College students and professors. The group spent two days volunteering in one of the areas hardest-hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. She recounts her experience here:
I spent my spring break on a trip to Japan with 18 classmates as a part of our Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy Class, funded by a generous grant from the Japan Foundation. The trip was organized by Dr. Oros and Professor Narita. Our group spent two days volunteering in Higashi Matsuhima, which is located in the Miyagi Prefecture north of Tokyo. This was one of the areas hit the hardest by the tsunami on March 11th, 2011.
We spent a day volunteering in a small local fishing village, Murohama. This once picturesque village had been completely devastated by the tsunami. More than half of the villagers have been forced to leave because of the devastation.
Reading about a disaster in a foreign country in the news or learning about it in class always causes you to take a moment and think about how awful it must be for those who had to live through it. But meeting with the remaining villagers, hearing about how worried they were for their futures, still residing in small, government issued housing a year later the reality of the situation becomes abruptly real.
Thankfully, everyone in the village of Murohama survived the disasters. The ones who were not forced to move to the city to get another job or to ensure their children could still attend school, remain in Murohama - struggling to regain a sense of normalcy.
Our group spent a long day in Murohama assisting them with their relief efforts. We teamed up with a local travel agency, Tohuku Travel, and the agency founder Steve Yamaguchi, who has since the disasters committed himself and his business to aiding those in need. Mr. Yamaguchi brings volunteer groups to villages like Murohama and facilitates the connections between the locals and volunteer workers.
We worked alongside the village chief and some fisherman, digging out about 200 feet of a drainage system that had been filled with mud when the tsunami flooded the roads. The other half of our group worked on cleaning up a shrine across the village. The work was not easy, but it was all made worth it by the heartfelt thanks and hugs we received from the village chief at the end of the day. He thanked us for keeping Japan in our thoughts, and let us know that he was quite impressed with "American women's strength!"
Community service is something that Coach Boyle always stresses to our team, but being able to have the opportunity to help out in a critical disaster area was an incredibly gratifying experience. The disasters momentarily caught worldwide attention, but this trip made all of us realize that disasters of this scale cannot be fixed by government aid and handouts alone. Japan needs on the ground volunteer work, and people like Steve Yamaguchi, who have dedicated their lives to helping. This trip was one of the most wonderful experiences I have had at Washington College, and it was my first time visiting a country in Asia. It was a beautiful place that I hope to someday return to. And maybe when I do, I can go up north to see a tiny beautiful fishing village nestled on the coast of the Miyagi Prefecture, one that bears no traces of the tragedies that have occurred.
Tarbert (center) with sophomore volleyball player Emily Hoyle (left) and senior Kim Pittman (right).