Volunteer reflects on disaster recovery work after Japan earthquake




Joe Mulgrew spent four months volunteering with Habitat in earthquake-devastated Japan.

By Joe Mulgrew, Disaster Corps volunteer

After spending 120 days in Japan volunteering as a field technical advisor, I found myself in Narita International Airport. I was on my way home to my family and business (construction), leaving a country I had come to love. When the security guards asked me to step aside to be searched more thoroughly, I smiled and told them the same thing I told the many volunteers I had worked with over the past four-and-a-half months: “Take your time and do a good job.”

Students, teachers, bankers, architects, doctors, engineers, horse trainers and more made up this group of volunteers. I enjoyed meeting and working with many Japanese volunteers, as well as Korean, French, German, Irish, Scottish, Norwegian, American and Canadian ones. Their limited construction knowledge was largely overshadowed by their dedication, devotion, passion and caring, which allowed us to accomplish wonderful things.

Every day a new adventure was embraced, knowing that we would be helping someone in need. Constructing a gazebo on a mountainside in Ishinomaki. Reconstructing a community center in Higashimatsushima. Gutting and mudding out private homes. Packing wakame (seaweed) for a hard-hit distribution company. Cleaning fields of debris to make way for gardens or playgrounds. Repairing a fisherman’s temporary tent to keep the tools of his trade safe and dry. (We were paid with fresh oysters on that one.)

The people of Japan and Habitat volunteers have made a very positive and lasting impact on my life. I hope that I had a smidgen of that impact on them. Their kindness and compassion were overwhelming and their resolve undaunted. I am ready to help wherever I am needed.Ganbaro!