The number of volunteers who have come through the Sendai Diocese Support Center has topped 715.
But now schools have resumed classes (the school year in Japan runs from April to March). The April 29-May 8 Golden Week holiday when a combination of holidays, weekends and a day or two of vacation time gave the whole country a week off is over. People are back at school and work.
One volunteer told me the company he had worked for recently closed down, so he was free to join the effort at any time. He asked to be accepted as a post-Golden Week volunteer, “I thought I’d come after Golden Week when volunteers might be scarce,” he said.
According to Fr. Daisuke Narui, executive director of Caritas, the number of people offering to join the relief effort is indeed dropping.
What can be done to carry on the work?
A volunteer distributing hot water at an evacuation center in Ishinomaki thought that some tasks like water distribution might be suitable for retirees. However, older people may find the dormitory-style living of volunteers and bedding down in sleeping bags to be a bit more than they can handle, though that, in fact, is daily life now for evacuees in school gymnasiums and other places.
The nature of the work may have to shift, at least till the next school vacation period, with less emphasis upon heavy manual labor even though that remains necessary. The mayor of Kamaishi has said that cleaning up that city will take at least three years.
Caritas already sponsors “Heart Care” counselors, specialists who serve survivors of the traumatic earthquake and tsunami.
Perhaps some beneficiaries of the volunteers’ service might be happy to break the tedium of evacuation center life and become agents as well as recipients of the relief efforts.
In any case, it looks as if the amount and the nature of relief work the Catholic Church can sponsor may have to change in the next month or two, at least until universities’ summer holiday.