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Activity Reports

Volunteer interview – Bandai Yoshinobu (Part 2)

June 13, 2011

(Continued from Part 1)

“On the bus at the end of working for a day, you see the volunteers covered in mud, with tired looking faces. Then, the next morning I make sure to put in extra energy when saying, “Good morning everyone! Do your best today as well!” Their faces all become so much brighter, and they respond to me with so much more energy!”

Mr Bandai Yoshinobu, the driver of the bus for volunteers, is popular amongst all volunteers.

Before he started this job as a driver, even when hearing that there were volunteers in Ishinomaki, the most he thought was “I wonder where everyone is staying?”

However, when he first went to work at the Ishinomaki Senshu University campus, the base for volunteers in the city, he saw many volunteers’ cars and buses from other prefectures throughout Japan parked on the campus. Then, the rows and rows of tents on the campus grass. Seeing these scene, Mr Bandai started to cry, thinking of how many volunteers were in Ishinomaki from all over the country.

“It made me shake, really. Thinking that so many people had come to help our town. I was just so happy. After speaking to someone at the city’s Disaster Recovery and Relief Council (to be introduced in a future post), he was told “they aren’t just coming here, they bring all of their own food, and even knowing that they can’t drink alcohol up here they are all paying their own way.” Mr Bandai told us, laughing, of the response when he that he wanted to volunteer also: “I was told off, since I am a survivor and I lost my job, they told me I should properly be paid for work and not just volunteer, haha!”

Volunteers working to deliver relief goods. Photo: Endo Kazuhide
The buses are vital for volunteer transport. Photo: Endo Kazuhide

Mr Bandai began to work on contract for the Ishinomaki Disaster Recovery and Relief Council, and through this began to get to know volunteers. According to Mr Bandai, once starting to work together with the volunteers he was overwhelmed by their contribution.

“If you have the strength of many people, you can even do things that heavy machinery can’t. All of the local people are very surprised!”
In between the morning and evening transports, there is some free time. During those hours, Mr Bandai borrows a bicycle and ride around to encourage the mud clearing teams, or goes to the washing up areas and ask how they are doing. This active communication has built many strong relationships and is the secret to his popularity amongst all volunteers.

“Noone is coming up here just for fun or to look around. You can tell that by their faces. Everyone has an expression of wanting to do anything that might be useful. We are so grateful for that. So, that is why I actively talk to the volunteers, hoping to make them certain that they are glad they came. From then, everyone calls out to me, waving and calling me Ban-chan! They ask me, “Ban-chan tell us your story.”” Mr Bandai hopes for volunteers to see as much of the damage as possible, so that he can convey to them the true, terrible power of the tsunami. At every such opportunity, he shares with the volunteers the story of his own experience of the disaster.

Shyly smiling, he says, “somewhere along the way, it seems that one of my jobs now is to tell the story of what happened.”

After the day’s work has finished, “Ban-chan Night” naturally started up, with Mr Bandai gathering volunteers to hear his stories.

“I can’t let people just come up to Ishinomaki, clear mud and go home! I have to tell people the real fear of the tsunami! After they hear my story, they always say that they will be sure to pass on my story, and that of Ishinomaki, to others. I am so encouraged by everyone, and thinking about what I can do straight away, it is to share my experiences with the people right in front of me,” Mr Bandai tells us in a light voice.

To the volunteers, Mr Bandai is a representative of the local community, an important person who they can consult about anything.

The port of Onagawa. Photo: Endo Kazuhide

One day, Mr Bandai was driving a bus through the town of Onagawa – totally destroyed by the tsunami. Upon seeing the neverending piles of rubble, the volunteers were silent. Mr Bandai stopped the bus, and explained to them the situation of Onagawa. At that time, an elderly man approached the bus and addressed the volunteers, saying something in a local dialect that none of them could understand. Many of the volunteers were worried that they were being told off for “sightseeing” in the devastated areas.

However, Mr Bandai translated what the man had said.

“Everyone, look! This is the situation now, but we are definitely going to stand up and come back! Then, come back and see the revitalised Onagawa!”

Hearing this, the volunteers all nodded heartily.

Holding the messages from volunteers

During this interview, Mr Bandai’s mobile telephone rang. The call was from a volunteer staff member, ringing to say they had made it home safely to Tokyo. A group of volunteers also presented Mr Bandai with a cloth covered in messages.

“We’ll be back soon!”, most volunteers tell Mr Bandai as they are leaving Ishinomaki.

“When I hear that, it just hits me. I almost cry – my heart is too full for words. Then, I always tell them to make sure them come back, and see Ishinomaki once it is back to life!”, Mr Bandai tells us.
All volunteers who have heard Mr Bandai’s story are surely sharing this with others after they return home, telling people of the reality of the tsunami. Somewhere tonight, another “Ban-chan Night” is also surely happening.
(Mr Bandai is now working as a driver in another area for the disaster recovery efforts.)