Grand Valley graduate Emma Nixon recently volunteered to be part of a team that ventured into one of the cities in Japan hit hardest by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Nixon, who graduated in 2008 with a degree in English-elementary education, has lived in Japan for nearly two years, teaching English through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. She spent a week in early May in Ishinomaki, arriving on the Peace Boat, a non-government organization. Her husband, Daniel Pierce (a Kendall College graduate), traveled with the Peace Boat in early April.
Nixon said the experience was both gratifying and overwhelming. "There are so many neighborhoods that will sit in filth, rubble and toxic sludge for weeks and months to come," she said.
When she arrived in Ishinomaki, Nixon said there was still a lot of clean up to do; special challenges came because the city is a fishing community. "There was a fish cannery with coolers of tons and tons of fresh fish and seafood," she said. "The tsunami had rushed in and busted the place open, destroying the coolers and dumping tons of fish in every corner of town."
Nixon and other volunteers had to search through rubble to remove the fish, helping to relieve the local people of the retched smell that overtook the town. She said it was vile job but interaction with the local residents made it bearable.
"At the end of the second day, one of the locals took my hand in both of his and thanked me over and over. There were tears in his eyes; that made it all worth it," she said.
In July, Nixon moves into a new position at JET as a mentor to new teachers. She said she will continue to encourage others to volunteer for relief efforts or donate supplies. "They need funds, equipment, leaders. It will be a slow ongoing process. The most important thing is for people not to forget.
"The media is quick to move on. In reality though, the affected communities will take years to recover, maybe decades if they don’t get outside help."
Nixon's uncle is Joseph Verschaeve, who teaches in Grand Valley's Sociology Department.