Bryan Dumas wanted to learn more about his Japanese ancestry, and thought that visiting the country would be a great way to do that. But in June, he did more than simply visit — he helped out with cleanup that was still underway following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
“I wanted to go there to learn about the culture,” said Dumas, who just started grade 10. “Then the earthquake happened, and I thought, ‘I’ll help out and learn.’ ”
For four weeks until mid-July, Dumas was in Japan with Global Expeditions, the only Canadian in a group with 27 Americans, including three translators. The group worked in the Ishiwomaki, a city located in Miyagi prefecture, where they spent most of their time clearing yards of debris.
“We were digging black sewer sludge from a guy’s yard so he could plant his garden,” said Dumas.
The team also tore down one house and rebuilt another, which became the team’s base of operations. Under Japanese law, Dumas said, if a home’s occupants are all deceased, the building can belong to whoever is willing to repair it.
Only one day was allowed for sightseeing, and the team enjoyed a visit to a temple, with each member picking up incense at the gate and taking it up 1,000 steps to the altar.
The end of the four-week trip was bittersweet for Dumas.
“It seemed that the end was kind of the best and kind of the worst,” he said. “One guy said, ‘If a tsunami or earthquake happened in North America, we wouldn’t come to help.’ He was pretty grateful.”
Dumas is also grateful, but to people in the Creston Valley, particularly his grandfather, Creston Mayor Ron Toyota, who donated to help make his trip possible. Not all of the funds came from donations, though, so Dumas spent time doing a lot of yardwork and odd jobs before he left.
“It took hard work and determination to raise the money to get there,” Dumas said. “It felt pretty good that I could go and help, not just hear about people going.”