By Saya Ono, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer
Related photo slideshow: Habitat Helps Japan 
Kenji Miyazawa was a Japanese poet in the 1920s. He was dedicated to improving the lives of those from Iwate, his native area. One of his poems, “Amenimomakezu,” had special meaning to my team as we worked alongside those affected by the March tsunami. One of the poem’s messages is that you shouldn’t let physical elements defeat you:
“Be not defeated by the rain, nor let the wind prove your better. / Succumb not to the snows of winter, nor be beaten by the heat of summer.”
Every Ofunato resident I met was so strong, and despite the devastating impact the tsunami had on their lives, they are resilient and determined to piece their lives back together with grace and humor. Everyone I spoke to said how touched they were by the messages and actions of people overseas and how this gave them hope.
The week of volunteering was tough, and the work was hard — cleaning out mud, pulling up floorboards, while everything around you looks like a garbage site and smells of fish — but reading comments on Facebook like “Good job, guys” and “this is beautiful ... humanity at its best” made us realize that we had the support of people across the world, and it motivated us to keep going.
For me, the trip was a precious experience. As a result of our clean-up activity, I hope many families can leave evacuation centers and return home. If, by doing this, communities are made stronger, then it will definitely have been a worthwhile trip.