ASIJ-based Boy Scout Troop 5 went up to Tohoku on a service project during the weekend of February 2-3, 2013. We had an amazing weekend in which we did things which, in themselves, may seem unimportant, but which were incredibly valuable to the people served. We spent Saturday helping a farmer whose land was inundated by the tsunami. He had to move his farm to higher ground on rented land and is restarting his life, but he does not have capital with which to pay employees, so he is restarting his farm with the help of volunteers who come from time to time.
The youth of Troop 5 were the first young people ever to be used for Tohoku relief by the funnel organization Hands On Tokyo, and they weren’t sure that we could do the work. The adults were drafted into removing old bean vines from one of the greenhouses and the scouts were asked to pick up stones from the soil in one green house and to remove clips holding up old pepper vines from two other green houses, so that the farmer could later remove the vines and replant some other vegetables. We were told that our work completed in one afternoon would have taken the farmer and his wife one month to complete, and was much appreciated.
We spent Sunday at a housing unit for people who had lost their houses in the tsunami-effected zone. We made yakisoba, sausages, pancakes and presented donated home-baked pastries as well as coffee and other hot drinks for the residents who gather when the volunteer organization comes about once each month to present a “hot cafe” for them. We had to cook outdoors on tiny gas stoves.
It was clear that the people remaining in these housing units were those most in need of support. Many were too weak to come out of their houses to join the event, so we took food to them. Some were using canes or walkers, so we had the scouts carry food and drink for them on trays back to their residences. There was a small building with tables where people could eat inside, but as they would have to come back out in the cold to get refills of coffee, our scouts performed waiter service carrying trays of food in to the waiting residents, who appreciated it very much.
The host organization said that we were the best group of volunteers that they ever had—we didn’t stand around waiting to be told what to do but identified problems and solutions on our own, and gave them some good ideas for future outdoor cooking. Of course, boy scouts are supposed to be experts at this sort of thing and cheerful service is a hallmark of what we teach in the program, but the boys performed well. The boys also sang and danced for the residents. Troop leader Jim Small’s “fake” karaoke was a big hit.
We had an opportunity to speak with several senior citizens who had lost all of their family members in the tsunami. It was emotionally difficult for scouts and adults alike to hear these stories first hand. We were proud of the scouts who used their Japanese skills to communicate with the residents about their experiences.
Our bus took us on a tour of the tsunami zone so that we could see the devastation. Most of the destroyed houses in this area had been removed, but some remained, or else there were just foundations with a bathtub sticking up out of an otherwise empty lot of land. We saw the Sendai airport and runway that was in the news when it flooded, and drove on what was probably the highway that we all saw so many times during the crisis, with the tsunami water flowing under it.
The scouts of Troop 5 all say that they want to do this again, but even more, are saying that other scout units need to do the same and they are talking about providing leadership to encourage other scouting units to do what we did. That is the essence of boy scouting and we leaders and parents are proud of all of them. (Bonnie Dixon, ASIJ Parent)