ISHINOMAKI, Japan – A year has passed since the devastation caused by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami hit northern Japan March 11, 2011.
However, a full recovery of the affected areas is far from complete.
With the help of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni volunteers, the rays of hope for this area may shine even brighter on its new horizon. Thirty-nine volunteers, the majority taking their own leave days to participate in the volunteer trip, traveled across the city of Ishinomaki in separate groups, each one helping with different volunteer efforts.
“We brought out as many volunteers as possible to help those in need in this area,” said Jesus Dominguez, Iwakuni volunteer group leader. “We are just military men and women who decided to come together and put in some hours to help out the community while taking up our own time.”
One group’s mission was to clean up Minato Shogakko’s (Elementary School) gymnasium so sports teams around the community would have a warm, sheltered area for recreational activities. A haze of dust covered the chipped and decrepit hardwood gym floor, grayer than wood-colored brown.
Undeterred, volunteers began the arduous task of sweeping, scrubbing, mopping and waxing the entirety of the floor.
“This gym became a shelter after the earthquake and tsunami,” said Jamie El-Banna, volunteer. “People were living in here for months. A local soccer club and a few other sports clubs are using the gym now with permission from the city.”
The school building itself is no longer a suitable teaching environment since nature’s wrath swept through it.
“To be honest, there is much work to do,” said El-Banna. “It’s going to be nice for the few days we all are here. I’ve worked with Marines when I first came up here in May. So I’ve seen what you guys can do and how quickly you work.”
The school now stands as a testament to the painful past to never be forgotten.
A clock hangs on the front of the building, its hands frozen in time from a year ago on that fateful day.
Next to the school, floors waxed and shining, the gym provides a glimmer of hope for the future, a community returning to its feet with the support of volunteers who chose to make a difference.
“This opportunity is priceless,” said Dominguez. “We are two days away from the anniversary of the disaster which hit here. To be able to come out here a year later, you can still see how much work there is left to do. Whatever jobs, however much work we can accomplish while we are here, the honor to be able to help is just priceless.”
Editor's note: This story is part one in a series about station residents’ volunteer efforts in Ishinomaki, Japan.