Sunshine story: Japanese students build homes in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand
A mini army of Japanese students has just finished helping build modest homes and a community centre in the hilly region of Uttarakhand that was devastated in the Kedarnath floods last June.
Labour of love: The youngsters worked together to build a protective wall, and two-room houses
A group of Japanese men and women carried sand and boulders from near the Mandakini river in the valley, up a winding mountainous path, literally sprinting up and down, from morning until evening. The 60 families in Batwari Sonar village were more than impressed.
Nagahiro Akiyama, a 22-year-old from Fukushima, explained why he was visiting India. “I was in Andhra Pradesh two years ago and was shocked to see how the poor lived,” said the young man, speaking through an interpreter. “We also want to give the Indians some unforgettable memories.”
The volunteers lived simply, eating rice and dal served to them — along with an occasional sweet dish. There was universal appreciation for the young Japanese, who won several hearts by greeting the villagers with ‘Namah Shivaya!’
“It is fascinating to see these Japanese do so much for us,” said Vikas Lingwal, a 20-year-old village resident who joined them in the voluntary work. “We need to emulate their discipline and team spirit.”
18 to 23
Age group of the volunteers
43 and 30
Total number of women and men involved in the project
>> 692 people died in the floods last year, in Batwari
>> Each volunteer had saved $1,800 to make the trip to India and return home
>> Built low-cost modest homes that are earthquake-resistant
Six girls and boys used shovels to dig out sand and fill jute bags, which were passed from one Japanese student to another, like in a relay race, all the way up the hill — some 350 metres above the river. The sand was piled in a corner of a Hindu temple ground. Small and large stones, also ferried by hand, were placed around the sand like a protective wall. Some laid stones and put cement to build earthquake-resistant two-room houses funded by Mata Amritanandamayi, a spiritual guru.