Persons with Disabilities and their Families – Lost to Evacuation Centers

AAR JAPAN has been engaging in relief activities in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, which was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. This is a report from Ayumi YASUDA of the Emergency Relief Team.

We received a phone call from Ms. Miyako SAITO in Ishinomaki City, whom we had previously visited to provide relief supplies. She told us of three families that had children with disabilities staying at an evacuation center nearby, and they needed supplies. The next day, on April 22nd, we visited the families with food and daily necessities at a house on the premises of Hitakami-en, a rehabilitation facility for people with mental disabilities.

All three families lost their homes in the earthquake and moved to public evacuation centers. When their children had difficulty living with other evacuees, the families were introduced to this house by the Ishinomaki Shoshinkai Social Welfare Corporation, and they have been living here in obscurity since.

Can’t Go to Evacuation Centers, Can’t Go to Buy Things

Ms. Yuko SAITO (58) lives with her two sons, the younger of whom, Kazuya (21), has severe mental disabilities. After the earthquake, they initially moved into an evacuation center at a high school before moving into the present house. For a time Kazuya didn’t speak due to the stress of the moves, but recently he finally began to find his voice. When I was talking with his mother, Kazuya tried to tell me that they had lost their house, saying, “House, bye-bye.”

Kazuya requires continuous care, and Ms. SAITO can rarely go out. When we gave her not only food but also nail clippers and ear picks as requested, she looked pleased and said, “We’ve received some urgently-needed supplies, but still lack some of the little things that we always took for granted before the earthquake. I feel unsettled without these things.”

April 22nd – When we gave her nail clippers and ear picks, Ms. Yuko SAITO (center) said, “The truth is that we lacked daily necessities like these.” Her son Kazuya has Down’s syndrome. (Left: Ayumi YASUDA, Emergency Relief Team, Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture)

“I Thought about Covering Her Mouth with Tape.”

Ms. Hatsue NITTA (69) now lives in the same house as Ms. SAITO, along with her daughter Chihiro (39), who has severe mental disabilities. They received mattresses and blankets at an evacuation center, and we provided them with sheets and covers. They had no choice but to leave the evacuation center where they had been staying after the earthquake because Chihiro yells every night. I got a sense of the immeasurable difficulties they had faced when Ms. NITTA told me, “I even thought about covering her mouth with tape.”

Ms. NITTA told me that she had just recovered from an illness herself, making it particularly difficult to live away from home while looking after her daughter. She said, “Those of us taking care of family members with disabilities are facing far greater difficulties than other families. We can’t stay in evacuation centers, but there’s no other place to go, either. We don’t know how long we can stay in this house, and I feel anxious every day.” I couldn’t say anything in reply to her words.

April 22nd – “We don’t know how long we can stay here,” Ms. NITTA says anxiously. Her daughter Chihiro (second from right) has severe mental disabilities. (Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture)

We Hope to Quickly Deliver Supplies to People Who Can’t Go Out

I’ve been visiting many evacuation centers over the past month, but seldom see persons with disabilities in the big public evacuation centers. Finally driven out, they go back to their half-destroyed homes, or timidly shelter themselves in their relatives’ houses. Families cannot leave their children alone, so it’s difficult for them to go shopping or to get relief supplies.

I deeply feel that AAR JAPAN should provide support for these people above all. We will continue to make efforts to quickly meet the needs of persons with disabilities and their families.

Worked in Nepal as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer after graduation from university,
then joined AAR. Born in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture.