Volunteer efforts are mounting in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, after twin earthquakes on April 14 and 16 razed buildings, triggered landslides, and crippled infrastructure. The magnitude-6.5 and 7.3 quakes killed more than 50 people, injured thousands, and displaced many tens of thousands from their homes as aftershocks in the region continue.
As relief work carries on in the coming weeks, JUMP would like to extend its heartfelt condolences and support to all those in Japan who are affected by this disaster.
These earthquakes have created an immediate need for global support. JUMP recommends our sister organization, The Nippon Foundation, as one option for those who would like to support recovery efforts. On April 15, the Nippon Foundation established the Kumamoto Earthquakes Volunteer Fund and began accepting donations to support on-site volunteer activities.
To ensure that the money can be used to provide immediate relief, donations support the activities of NGOs and volunteer organizations working in the area. Many homes have been destroyed, which means some people who were displaced are expected to live in evacuation centers for an extended time. In addition to providing emergency food rations, water, other necessities, and support for elderly or disabled people who need special assistance, many volunteers will be needed during the recovery period to help remove debris and rebuild homes. Donations to the Kumamoto Earthquakes Volunteer Fund will be used to support these activities. Click here for more details.
The Nippon Foundation additionally has announced the first stage of its own emergency support measures totaling more than 9 billion yen (more than $80 million) to include funds for emergency response, support for NGOs and volunteer organizations, payment of condolence money to families affected by the disaster, the establishment of financing structure for rebuilding homes and businesses, support for repairs to Kumamoto Castle, and establishment of The Nippon Foundation Disaster Response Support Center in Kumamoto.
JUMP also supports Global Giving as another option for contributing to recovery efforts. Donations initially will go toward meeting survivors’ needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter. In the longer term, funds will help support recovery from the quakes and resulting landslides, which damaged or destroyed homes, roads, businesses, and hospitals. For more information, please visit Global Giving’s webpage.
JUMP also would like to encourage the public to keep informed about the situation in Kumamoto and the surrounding areas, and to keep the region in your thoughts as they continue to experience aftershocks. Here are some links to news reports for more information on the disaster:
• April 27: Working parents left in lurch due to damaged day care centers in quake-hit Kumamoto (Kyodo News Service)
• April 27: Kumamoto shelters unable to accept special needs evacuees (The Asahi Shimbun)
• April 26: Quakes leave 134 school buildings in Kumamoto at risk of collapse (The Asahi Shimbun)
• April 24: Prime Minister Abe says Japan will create extra budget for Kumamoto earthquake (Bloomberg)
• April 24: Volunteers advised to do their homework before going to Kumamoto (Jiji Press & Kyodo News Service)
• April 23: Volunteers rush to Kumamoto to join earthquake relief efforts (The Asahi Shimbun)
• April 20: After the Kumamoto Earthquakes: Responding and Rebuilding (Nippon.com)
• April 20: Quake-hit areas in Kumamoto give green light to volunteers (The Japan Times)
• April 17: Japanese Red Cross scales up emergency response to Kumamoto earthquakes (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)
• April 15: Magnitude 7.0 earthquake violently shakes southern Japan (The Washington Post)
As the Fifth anniversary of the terrible 3/11 disaster approaches, I have been reflecting more often on that fateful event. While it has largely faded from public consciousness, it’s important to remember the tens of thousands of people who suffered so terribly. With today’s news cycle of war in Syria, the Zika virus in Latin America, and the Presidential election in the U.S., it’s all too easy to forget what we were doing in the spring of 2011. As for me, I was living in Japan for the second time during that period (2010-12) and then had the opportunity to volunteer in the disaster relief efforts in Tohoku during Golden Week.
Although I was a full-time graduate student in Tokyo, I was actually on spring break and traveling by train through the hinterlands of Russia to meet my sister on 3/11. As we had no access to TV or the Internet on board the train, I did not even learn of the triple disaster until we reached Moscow. Even from a distance, I could tell that the magnitude of the crisis was unprecedented and far beyond anything that had come before. I was forced to change my return trip and flew instead to the U.S., where I waited anxiously for a resolution.
Fortunately, both Rotary International and ICU decided to continue our graduate fellowship, and I returned to Japan determined to continue my studies. While I was relieved to be back at school, I felt compelled to volunteer for something more in the face of such a large disaster, in order to give back to the country that had twice welcomed me warmly as a guest. I had worked on the 2010 Haiti Earthquake relief effort as a U.S. government civilian in Washington, D.C., but had never deployed to any disaster site firsthand — so I had no idea how to proceed.
I was happy to have the opportunity to join a volunteer effort through The Nippon Foundation, which organized over 100 university students from around the greater Tokyo area to travel up to Ishinomaki. Seven of us joined from ICU, including graduate and undergraduate students. Both Japanese and international, we bonded quickly with the other schools’ volunteers in our shared mission to serve those in need. Although the devastation was terrible, we could draw inspiration from the amazing courage shown by the fishermen and families we worked alongside to clean up the massive debris strewn across their community.
As a veteran, what struck me the most about our diverse student volunteer group was the group of young cadets from the National Defense Academy who had joined us. With their rucksacks, uniforms and crisp manner, they certainly stood out among the crowd. Once I introduced myself as a veteran, we formed fast friendships, based on our shared motivation for national service. They were always the first to rise each morning, and went about their duties with a diligence that was extremely admirable. In their own quiet way, they helped advance the idea of civil-military coordination to the other young university students, some of whom were initially suspicious of any form of public military affiliation.
I took away some key lessons learned from this experience with The Nippon Foundation.
• First, it is much better to go through an organized, coordinated relief effort, rather than just self-deploying and showing up where you may not be wanted or needed.
• Second, it’s critical to understand the local culture of where you are providing relief. Even within Japan, the Tohoku region is but one of many places with its own traditions, customs, and ways of operating.
• Third, it’s important to treat survivors as active partners in the relief effort, rather than passive victims. For much of the week we were there, we were working inside the severely-damaged homes of the fishermen and their families. We were careful to respect their property and invite them to participate fully in the relief efforts. In fact, more often than not, they were guiding volunteers through the process and providing encouragement when we felt overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the devastation.
While five years have passed, I will always remember my volunteer experience in Ishinomaki. It was certainly the toughest, yet most rewarding, thing I have ever done in my life. There were times when I felt like I could not continue, but the strength I received from my fellow volunteers and the local survivors sustained me through the week. Five years on, I still pray for the souls of the departed and hope that the survivors are not forgotten in the daily news cycle or the rush toward the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. It is essential that we never forget those lessons learned and never stop helping the people affected by that terrible tragedy in Tohoku.
Mark Flanigan is a U.S. Army veteran who has also lived in Japan twice as a civilian (from 2000-04 as a member of the JET Program in Nagasaki and 2010-12 as a Rotary Peace Fellow at ICU in Tokyo). While Mark did not serve specifically in the military in Japan, he is a proud Army veteran and has been associated with Japan personally and professionally for over 15 years. Since graduating from ICU in 2012, Mark has been working as a Program Director for the Japan ICU Foundation in NYC. He additionally serves as a Board Member of the Japan Exchange Teaching Program Alumni Association of New York (JETAANY).
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