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Activity Reports

Volunteer interview – Shibata Ayako

May 31, 2011

“To understand what the survivors are having to go through. As a volunteer you are in a certain position that is ‘apart’ from the survivors…I feel it is important to bridge this gap.”

Ms Shibata Ayako, volunteer April 29 – May 7

Volunteer, Ms Shibata Ayako

Volunteer, Ms Shibata Ayako

“I’m originally from Miyagi prefecture, this part of the country is my home…”
Now a long-term resident of Tokyo, Ms Shibata left her home town of Osaki in Miyagi prefecture when she was 18 years old. Her father was from neighbouring Rikuzen-Takada city (another area very badly hit by the tsunami) and she has many fond memories of that place.

“I am still beside myself…”

She was unable to contact her family in this area for a very long time after the quake. On March 23, Ms Shibata made her way up to Miyagi, only to find that all of her 7 siblings had perished in the tsunami.

“I would watch footage of the disaster on TV and just cry and cry…I couldn’t stop.”

Relatives from her mother’s side of the family are in Ishinomaki, however she was still unable to locate them at the time of this interview. Are they living in an evacuation center? Has their home been destroyed? Are they being fed? Clothed? Such worries cross her mind.

When Ms Shibata first went to Rikuzen-Takada after the quake, she brought with her large amounts of any kind of goods she could think of, such as hand creams, shoes and moisturizer. She distributed them in a personal capacity as much as she could and she found that people were very appreciative indeed. It was at this time she says that she decided to let go of her tears, and to move forward.

“I decided that I wanted to carry out a proper stint as a volunteer. That was when I contacted Peace Boat,” she says.
“The first thing I asked was if I was too old…you see I am not too confident of my physical strength. Luckily I was appointed to work in the stores and not sludge removal!”

Working in the stores, she would come across donated goods full of so many thoughtful and useful items from all the world which filled her with a sense of hope. At other times she came across relief goods delivered which were nothing more than cast-offs or unusable items. She says she found this disrespectful, and it pained her to see such things.
“However, an overwhelming majority of the time the strong feeling of support, sympathy and solidarity from people across the world to the survivors is almost tangible.”

Ms Shibata is a professional nurse and carer. She has even been manager of a nursing home. She calls on her own well of experience and knowledge to inform her decision-making when volunteering. “Under such stressful circumstances, it is doubly important to view things from the perspectives of the survivors. We are here to serve their needs first and foremost and not here to ‘rescue’ them,” she stresses.

“I remember my team and I delivered relief goods to a nursing facility the other day. They were obviously  tremendously busy (not to mention with unprecedented levels of stress over these past couple of months) but too
polite to say so. They are very thankful for our help, but they also have heaps of work to do! In those cases, as much as I might like to stay and talk, get to know them and their workplace, and maybe even become friends, I understand it is best to deliver the goods, bid goodbye and good wishes and let them get back to work. My heart really goes out to them, and the amount of work that still lies ahead…”

After her stint with Peace Boat, Ms Shibata will continue her volunteer efforts in Rikuzen-Takada city again.

Observing Ms Shibata working in the stores, she was obviously carrying out her tasks with a lot of loving care, quietly yet dutifully. We thus requested an interview with her, and after hearing the tragedy that befell her family because of the quake, were at a loss for words.

At the end of the interview, Ms Shibata asked if we would include in this report some of her writing about her feelings towards her home town. We were honoured to oblige, and she sent us the following:

Hello everyone at Peace Boat!
I hope you are keeping well.

Thank you so much for allowing me to help out in relief work up in Ishinomaki. I wanted to help out so badly, and Peace Boat provided me with the opportunity, for this I am very grateful. I will be back to join again!

It was wonderful being interviewed by Peace Boat for this blog.

My father’s home town has been obliterated. My siblings, cousins and their families are all gone. So is the family home.
Relations from my mothers side of the family from Ishinomaki have not fared better I have since found out. 1 has passed away and the family home is destroyed.

Below is a passage I wrote after seeing Rikuzen-Takada city just after the quake.


Shibata Ayako


Grief… Grief…

Land which gives life

Pine trees on the coast of Rikuzen-Takada

Blue sea and white sand

The smiling faces of those I love

Forever erased, smothered, swallowed whole

in front of eyes that watched

as shivers of terror ripped them apart

The scars you left are too deep

destroyed homes as far as the eye can see

as if you couldn’t care less

of the histories of life

that took root in this place


until that day

that you shook the earth and your waves swallowed us whole

How on earth can I gleam any meaning?

My mother, my father, my children… their voices forever muted inaudible

They call out, trying to be heard across the mountains of debris

Is this the end of the world?

People from Tohoku are strong! A tough and resilient people! … they say.

But no, that is not true

Listen closely…

Can’t you hear the sobbing?

Can you hear the deafening silence of shellshock?

Some held onto each other for strength… but how powerless they were against that crashing wave…

uprooted like so many twigs…

so insignificant, life was erased… washed away…

Others held on for dear life to buildings, houses and trees

Those who escaped the consuming wave were to witness the aftermath of destruction…

Sleep, Sleep, Sleep for a while…

Remember the fun you had with your husband, your siblings, your children…

The pine trees on the coast of Rikuzen-Takada are now but only a memory

Hiroshi, Makoto, Keiko, I think of your families…

The blue sea

and what it provided us with

the peaceful days of our lives

The cold tonight cuts to the bone… so get some rest

Makoto! Hiroshi! Keiko!

Butterflies will dance tonight

As we grieve for you

Will a broken heart ever open up again?

When I wake up, will you be there?

I hope so, and I would like to be next to you.

I will wait for you.

No matter how many years it may take, until spring returns to our world

I will wait for you

Until my tears dry

When I will look up and see your face, and see that spring has returned.

“Nice to see you again, spring time!” I shall say, “and thank you for giving me the courage to move forward”

Who on earth would have guessed that something like this would happen?

An idyllic life destroyed entirely in a matter of minutes…

Give us back our lives! Give back those bodies that were pulled out to sea!

Give me back my loved ones! The beautiful nature!

I hope you will find your mother and father in heaven soon.

Tell them how frightening it was, they will listen.

Tell them how cold it was, they will listen.

Tell them how much the sea water stung, they will listen.

I am sure they will pour you a hot cup of tea and keep you warm.