They say they want to aid the suffering in flood-affected parts of Uttarakhand

A mini army of Japanese students has just finished helping to build modest homes and a community centre in this hilly region that was devastated in the Kedarnath floods last June.

A total of 43 young women and 30 young men carried sand and boulders from near the Mandakini river in the valley here up a winding mountainous path, literally sprinting up and down, from morning until evening.

Half-a-dozen girls and boys used shovels to dig out sand and fill jute bags, which were passed from one Japanese student to another, as is done 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 temple ground in the village. Small and large stones, also ferried by hand, were placed around the sand like a protective wall.

It was clearly no easy task. The Japanese — aged 18 to 23 — sweated away despite the pleasant weather as they slogged for four consecutive days, wearing loose fitting workmen’s clothes, gloves and cloth caps. Some had facemasks to keep away the dust.

A few laid stones and put cement as they took part in building simple but earthquake-resistant two-room houses funded by Mata Amritanandamayi.

Nagahiro Akiyama, a 22-year-old from Fukushima, said: “I was in Andhra Pradesh two years ago and was shocked to see how the poor lived. Life for the poor in India is so different from the way we Japanese live. We also want to give Indians some unforgettable memories.”

Akiyama said each student spent around $1,800 — earned from doing part-time work in Japan — to fly to India during a two-week recess. They will go back to studies on their return to Japan on Friday.

Kaneko Yasuyuki of Osaka, 21, added: “If people are suffering, I want to help.”

The 60 families in Batwari Sonar village were more than impressed.

“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.”

The youngsters are from the Japan-based International Volunteer University Students Association. Activist Mukesh said the Japanese had no grouse as they were squeezed into the only hotel in the region that survived last year’s terrible disaster. Three to five students occupied every room.

They ate the simple rice and dal served to them — along with an occasional sweet dish.

“My god, these girls are so pretty. I hope they don’t get dark working under the sun,” said Rumi Devi, a woman in her 40s.

As a parting gift, the Japanese cleaned up the village on the fifth day, removing garbage and filth. “We are really going to miss them” Sahil Sajwan, a 17-year-old resident said.