When Hurricane Sandy survivor Calvin Leavy opened his door to a volunteer cleaning crew in December, he got more than one surprise. Not only would the volunteers clear out the sodden contents of his home in one day — a job that would have taken him months — but the group was from half a world away: Japan.
The people who shoveled, scrubbed and scraped the soaked debris were from Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center, a Tokyo-based group that coordinates volunteers after disasters. AmeriCares funds Peace Boat efforts in Japan, where they are helping communities recover from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. When the group heard about the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, they wanted to pay back the support they’d received from the U.S. With a call to AmeriCares, they were connected to World Cares Center, a U.S.-based organization with a similar mission and also supported by AmeriCares.
The Peace Boat crew was taking part in Operation Muck-Out, one of two World Cares Center projects that AmeriCares supported in Sandy’s aftermath. AmeriCares provided funding for Operation Muck-Out, which trains and deploys volunteers to clean storm debris. AmeriCares donated 3,500 sleeping bags for Project Winter Warmth, which distributed them to families living without heat after the storm. Both projects are just a portion of AmeriCares aid for an estimated 300,000 people affected by Sandy.
One Japanese volunteer was especially grateful for the opportunity to pay back: Yoshinobu Bandai is a resident of Ishinomaki, a city of 164,000 that was 80 percent destroyed by the 2011 disaster. Bandai had experienced the death and destruction; he had also met Peace Boat volunteers doing muck-outs there and ultimately joined the group, helping others as he himself had been helped. “My job as a heavy equipment operator was on hiatus,” he says. “Volunteering with Peace Boat gave my life purpose.”
One of eight volunteers who traveled from Japan to help Hurricane Sandy survivors, Bandai brings more than muscle. “I know what survivors need,” he says. “I can bring hope.” At first, after the total destruction of his hometown of Ishinomaki, Yoshinobu Bandai despaired. “I said, ‘God, why am I here?’” he recalls of the day in March 2011 when he witnessed the deadly wave sweep away his neighbors. Less than two years later, Bandai stood outside Calvin’s storm-surge soaked house in Far Rockaway. “Now I say, ‘Thank God I’m here’,” he says.
AmeriCares funds both organizations because of the effective way they deliver aid. Both Peace Boat and World Cares Center were born of disaster: Peace Boat’s disaster relief arm formed after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. World Cares Center was organized after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Both organizations harness the energy and goodwill of volunteers by training them, then organizing them into teams that operate safely and effectively in disaster areas. Peace Boat also maintains its original cultural exchange function with a boat that sails three times a year carrying Japanese citizens to 15 to 20 countries for person-to-person cultural diplomacy.