the BIG CLEAN – Kesennuma Field Report

June 2, 2011 – It was raining on the highway to Kesennuma. Located at the northeast end of the Miyagi Prefecture, large sections of the city were destroyed by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Driving past swathes of uncleared debris in the downpour, my partner and I prayed for better weather at our destination. We had decided to make the long trip from Akita to help in the reconstruction process. By the time we reached the Volunteer Centre, the skies had cleared, and our group of eight was driven to a house. The house was huge and beautifully built with wooden interiors. Its beauty had an eeriness when cast in the backdrop of devastation around it – it was one of the few houses left standing in the community. Still, it was not left unscathed by the disaster. The tsunami had swept through the house, leaving the floors and doors caked in mud and refuse. Our task for the day was to take down all the doors and windows, and clean away the mud caked on its hinges and grooves. It was tough, unglamorous work, but we all worked hard. By the end of the day, when all the screens, doors and windows were put back, the house was sparkling clean and smudge free. Looking around me, I could see smiles of satisfaction on all our faces. Although it would take years to restore Kesennuma to its former glory, a small victory was won today.

June 3, 2011 – We arose at day break, still sore from the previous day’s work, but eager to begin a new day. This time, my group of four was tasked to wash all the dishes and traditional lacquered bowls and trays of this family. The whole first floor of this house had been submerged in water for a week and all of their furnishings and floor boards had been damaged. We got down to work using the taps outside their house. Thankfully, clean water had come back this week. It was a beautiful day and the job went smoothly.

– Liyen

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