Many people have forgotten the devastating flash flooding and landslides, caused by an extreme amount of precipitation, that happened 2 year ago in Uttarakhand, the Northernmost state of India. More than 5,500 people were killed and an untold number of houses and buildings were destroyed. Our volunteers, however, are still working to help the many survivors who are still struggling with the aftermath of the disaster.
On February 25th 2015, 63 Japanese students came to Uttarakhand to help for the second time in the Rehabilitation Project in Chandrapuri, Kedarnath Valley. For more than 15 years, Embracing the World has been collaborating with the Japanese student volunteer organization International Volunteer University Students Association (IVUSA). Each year IVUSA has sent groups of about 100 students to India to participate in Embracing the World’s housing building projects for the homeless and disaster refugees.
After the short-term relief efforts concluded, our volunteers shifted their focus to long-term educational needs. The schools continue to be unusable. Children are still studying in dark temporary tin classrooms, which are dark and cramped. This phase of the rehabilitation has two parts: demolishing old classroom buildings and rebuilding modern classrooms on the same sites, as well as building new sets of tables and benches.
First, the IVUSA students began by demolishing the old school buildings which is very labor intensive. They spent many days clearing the area of big rocks, timber, and metal roofing, all of which would be reused later to build the new classrooms. When the demolition part of the work was completed, the reconstruction phase began. The reconstruction work required carrying loads of materials such as sand, brick, and gravel from the road, up steep paths to the school building sites. The days were hot, the sun was strong and the trail was steep. Despite intense heat and dust, they persevered, joyfully carrying the bags one by one. When rain prevented the students from working outside, they built tables and benches indoors. In total, making 56 sets.
Beyond the physical work, the students spent time with the villagers bridging cultural divides and bringing smiles to those they were serving. The Japanese students were enthusiastic, joyful workers, and their energy was contagious. Many of the local youth joined the students, volunteering their time and following their example. On one such occasion, local youth joined the students in carrying sand up the hill. Together, they created a long human chain from the road to the school, working efficiently.
The students also participated in local holidays and celebrations including Holi, the festival of colors. They enjoyed bathing in the icy cold water of the Mandakini River, eating vegetarian curry for the first time and practicing yoga on the roof in view of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas.
One student asked a local village woman, “ What do you think of us Japanese students volunteering here? What else can we do to serve you?” She replied “ Your hard work is very inspiring. We appreciate you coming here, we all are so happy to see you. Please come again so that we can see your smiles. We do not need anything else; thank you so much for your effort.”
Despite the lack of physical comfort, including no hot water and intermittent electricity, the IVUSA volunteers expressed that serving selflessly gave them great contentment. Many of the students had paid for the plane tickets themselves, having saved their earnings to fly to India. While the program is in collaboration with Japanese Universities, the students did not earn credit for the volunteer hours, making the trip truly a selfless service. The students felt that they were amply rewarded with the unforgettable experience of the joy of serving those in need.