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Hot Soup Warms the Hearts of Japan’s Flood Victims

As Japan was still reeling from the floods that devastated its western region, Tzu Chi volunteers in the country distributed hot soup to affected residents taking shelter in local schools in the hardest-hit areas of Okayama Prefecture.

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Tzu Chi Japan’s volunteers joined other local community groups in providing aid to the flood victims. (Photo by Su Mei Jing)

An opportunity to serve flood victims

Sustained torrential rains hit western Japan, causing flash floods and collapse of river embankments, and setting off landslides in many areas. According to a news report by NHK (Japan’s national public broadcasting organisation) on 12 July 2018, the death toll from the disaster stood at over 180, with dozens still missing. About 200,000 households were without power or clean water, and large numbers of the affected residents were accommodated in shelters.

Japan’s Tzu Chi volunteers started conducting disaster assessments on 9th July 2018, with volunteers from Osaka travelling 200km to Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture in three consecutive days. After conducting situation assessments in three different shelters, Tzu Chi Japan decided to distribute hot food to the flood victims staying in a local primary school that was serving as a temporary shelter.

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Touched by Tzu Chi’s disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of Japan’s 311 earthquake, the person in charge of the scheduling of hot food preparation in Okayama Prefecture specially made arrangements for Tzu Chi volunteers to distribute hot soup to the flood victims at a local shelter. (Photo by Su Mei Jing)

As the volunteers walked under the scorching sun along the muddy roads after the floodwaters had retreated, they saw stretches of collapsed trees along the damaged river banks. From the high water marks on the walls of houses that were inundated during the flood, they could sense the magnitude of the disaster wrought by the collapse of the river embankment.

Fortunately, there was a sufficient supply of food, water, clothing and other daily necessities in the shelters, thanks to the efforts of many local charity groups. A staff at the temporary shelter located in the local primary school in Okayama Prefecture revealed to the volunteers that the flood victims would be housed there for a period of time, and they needed help with preparation of hot meals.

The person in charge of a local non-profit group initially said that they already had enough charity/volunteer groups supplying hot food to the shelters in the district until mid-July. However, as he was touched by the painstaking efforts of Tzu Chi in the aftermath of Japan’s 311 earthquake, he specially allowed the volunteers to provide hot soup for lunch and dinner at the primary school starting from 12th July 2018.

Tzu Chi volunteers also discovered that although there were many NGOs providing food to the flood victims on site, the meals lacked fresh fruits and vegetables as well as hot soup. Thus, the volunteers decided to provide these items instead of the main course.

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Tzu Chi volunteers chatted with a Mr Kato (right) during an assessment visit to a disaster shelter in Kansai. Kato has visited Taiwan before and his solemn face turned cheerful after learning that Tzu Chi originates from Taiwan. (Photo by Su Mei Jing)

Volunteers’ sincere, loving efforts touched many hearts

In the afternoon of 11 July 2018, six volunteers from Tzu Chi Japan sprang into action and worked to source for ingredients and cooking utensils in order to prepare food for the flood victims. The following day, 12 July 2018, 11 volunteers from Tokyo and 4 volunteers from Kansai met up in Okayama Prefecture to kick start the preparation for hot food distribution. Each day, they would provide hot soup during lunch and dinner for 200 local residents taking shelter at the primary school. Although there weren’t many Tzu Chi volunteers in Japan, the locals exuded warmth and friendliness in response to their love and care.

In another local primary school, Tzu Chi volunteers provided 70 bowls of tomato and mushroom soup to local residents taking shelter there. When the inspection staff from the health bureau came to check on the food hygiene at the school, they gave Tzu Chi a perfect rating after observing the volunteers fully geared up with headscarves, masks, gloves and aprons while preparing and serving food.

The head of the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR Japan) spotted the Tzu Chi volunteers who were clad in their distinctive blue and white uniforms, and immediately knew that they are from Taiwan. He had personally witnessed Tzu Chi volunteers helping disaster victims in Sendai in the aftermath of the 311 earthquake, and was especially touched by their efforts in providing what the latter needed most at the time.

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Granny Tamura’s (left) heart is warmed by a bowl of hot soup from Tzu Chi. (Photo by a Tzu Chi Japan volunteer)

Volunteers also offered care and support to Grandma Tamura, a flood victim staying in the shelter. Her home was located near to a collapsed river embankment. At that time, the water from the river gushed ferociously into her neighbourhood, and it didn’t take long for the entire area to be inundated. All the houses there were submerged in muddy water for two to three days, and five residents living near to Tamura were killed in the flood.

The elderly lady was heartbroken to see her old house destroyed and her old neighbours, whom she used to hang out with, lose their lives in the disaster. Fortunately, her grandchild saved her life by sending her to the shelter earlier. The sight of Tzu Chi volunteers in the shelter moved her to tears.

She was very touched by the sincerity and love shown by the volunteers, especially when she learned that the latter, many of whom who hail from Taiwan, were there just to help those affected by the flood. She was so overwhelmed by emotions that she covered her face and sobbed uncontrollably. When she and her granddaughter received a bowl of tomato and mushroom soup from the volunteers, she was so overjoyed that she couldn’t stop smiling. The hot soup not only warmed her stomach, but her heart as well.

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The person in charge of the shelter remarked happily several times: "It's so delicious!" while drinking the tomato and mushroom soup offered by a Tzu Chi volunteer (left). (Photo by a Tzu Chi Japan volunteer)

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Volunteers fanning some children at the shelter to prevent them from getting heat stroke in the hot and humid afternoon. (Photo by a Tzu Chi Japan volunteer)

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A journalist from Yomiuri Online in Osaka interviewing a Tzu Chi volunteer at a disaster shelter. (Photo by a Tzu Chi Japan volunteer)

In the evening, the volunteers whipped up 110 servings of tofu mushroom miso soup and 82 servings of vegetables with sesame sauce for dinner. When they served the soup and vegetables to the residents at the shelter, the latter said happily: "We really need more fruits and vegetables here." A resident even wrote a note saying, "I enjoyed this delicious meal, thank you so much!" to express their appreciation and gratitude to the volunteers.

The Tzu Chi Foundation in Taiwan said that Tzu Chi Japan planned to distribute hot food to the flood victims in three rounds, until the end of July, and they would continue to monitor the situation in the aftermath. Through Tzu Chi’s timely help and caring support, the seeds of love and humanity from Taiwan have been deeply planted in the hearts of the Japanese people!

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