February Community Services Feature: Disaster Relief with Peace Boat & PBV

What is Peace Boat?

In October of last year, FEW Japan had the pleasure of welcoming three panelists to discuss multiculturalism in Japan. Among them, Angeli Narandran, International Coordinator of Peace Boat, spoke with the FEW ladies about how to create conversations and environments to foster multiculturalism in Japan. Ms. Narandran regaled us with the mission and history of Peace Boat touring Asian nations while having tough discussions regarding pain caused by Japan in the early 20th century.

For this month’s feature, I had a very informative conversation with Robin Lewis, International Coordinator for Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center (PBV). Surprised to hear there was a separate entity dedicated to disaster relief within Peace Boat, I asked him to explain both.

Peace Boat was established in 1983 by a group of Japanese university students eager to address the issues of government censorship regarding Japan’s aggressive military actions in the Asia-Pacific area. These students toured nearby nations in Asia to learn first hand about the war from those who directly suffered from it. 35 years and 60,000 passengers later, Peace Boat is on its 96th voyage from Yokohama (Jan. 8) to its farthest point in New Zealand (Feb 12) and back to Yokohama (Mar 4) through Papua New Guinea. During their journey, these participants are currently assisting local residents in visiting nations while fostering people to people relationships. They are also listening to guest speakers, such as Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu, discuss special projects they are focusing on while en route to their next destination.

What is the Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center?

While Peace Boat continues to foster cooperation and unity between people of different nations, Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center (PBV) is the disaster relief arm of Peace Boat. It not only focuses on disaster relief aid but also long-term support to areas affected by disasters.

The 1995 Kobe Earthquakes was the first time Peace Boat participated in any disaster relief efforts. Peace Boat in turn coordinated hundreds of thousands of volunteers to assist in the disaster giving them the idea that it could utilize its resources and ships to send goods when possible. With the March 11 earthquakes in Tohoku, Peace Boat realized how severe the situation in Tohoku was and created the separate entity, the disaster relief volunteer center.

Fun Fact: Did you know that ship routes are actually planned months or sometimes years in advanced?

It’s impossible to simply set a course and sail out at a few week’s notice. What’s even more surprising is that rule remains even in the wake of a disaster where people are desperate for aid. However, when a disaster hits, Peace Boat takes advantage of their pre-scheduled routes by loading their ships with volunteers, food, water and other disaster relief necessities to domestic or international areas. For example, just a year ago, Chile had been stricken by horrendous forest fires burning about 180,000 hectares of land. Because Peace Boat typically travels to Chile for its global voyages, they were able send aid. There have also been long-term disaster relief response projects in Haiti (2017), Nepal (2015), Vanuatu (2015).

PBV’s Challenges

Despite the amazing ability PBV has to quickly amas humanitarian aid there is still an all-to-familiar challenge to the division. Like many of our past feature organizations, PBV relies on donations and grants. PBV has been able to create its own revenue through disaster relief training workshops to families, companies, and embassies however it’s difficult to fund support and awareness for smaller and lesser known disasters. There are plenty of donations that come in for large earthquakes that have media coverage but what about areas affected by a flood, or mudslide, or fire that get very little attention? The lack of awareness makes it difficult for PBV team to provide the aid needed for those situations.

PBV’s Greatest Accomplishments

Being about to quicking coordinate aid and volunteers like this is what Mr. Lewis feels is Peace Boat and PBV’s greatest achievement. In just the first year of PBV, they were able to coordinate 13,000 volunteers to go to Ishinomaki, Miyagki Prefecture. It’s said to be one of the biggest mobilizations of both Japanese and internationals volunteers from 53 countries in history. PBV worked with local governments to clean damaged homes, provide food and water, and rebuild and promote for local industries such as the fishing and tourism industry. The PBV Ishinomaki Headquarters are still there to this day having shifted from emergency response to long-term recovery support. Mr. Lewis himself has been a volunteer coordinators for PBV for seven years and characterizes his job as helping people help people.

How Can the FEW Ladies Help PBV?

If you don’t have an emergency supply kit yet, PBV currently sells emergency supplies packed by those with disabilities living in Tohoku. Profits are for each kit goes towards funding employment opportunities and training for other Emergency projects. You can order one here.

Also, for more information on Peace Boat or the PBV, you can follow them on their Facebook page. For any donations to Peace Boat, they can be sent here.

And of course if you are interested in participating in on of Peace Boat’s voyages as a passenger or volunteer, you can get more information here.


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