Japan: A Sendai Report by a Supporter―Witnessing the Plight with Her Own Eyes (3)

One of the AAR JAPAN longtime supporters, Ms. Toshi Morikawa, visited Miyagi prefecture in this early August.  She describes the calamity after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the strength of the local people.

Persons with Disabilities Suffer Most

AAR’s head of its Northern Japan relief office, Sayako Nogiwa, says, AAR wants to assist those who are in most need, and those who tend to be forgotten, namely seniors and the disabled. Ms. Nogiwa came to AAR seven years ago, from Deutsche Bank, wanting to help people in need rather than helping the rich. She has since engaged in relief work connected to Myanmar’s cyclone, the great earthquake off Sumatra, and floods in Pakistan. She arrived at the disaster zone just two days after the quake and tsunami, with meals for 500 people. She said AAR knew from experience that food and water is the first need. She also said at any disaster, anywhere in the world, the disabled suffer the most, so by the 6th day, AAR, in collaboration with other organizations, checked out the state of all facilities for the disabled in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures.

AAR is helping to repair and restore some 60 facilities for seniors and the disabled. All the facilities need repairs of various kinds, starting with installing a lifeline. Cleaning, cleansing and repairing is a major task now. With the help of overseas aid foundations, AAR is also building temporary houses for the facilities washed away.

Finding a New Outlook on Life
Sayoko Nogiwa, the Representative of Tohoku
Office, delivered a computer to a man with impaired
vision (June 22, 2011, Wakuya town, Miyagi)

Ms. Nogiwa said AAR’s real aim, and her own heart’s desire, is to see these people find a new outlook on life, to know the joy of living. AAR is anxious to see these people engaged in some work, -- instead of sitting all day, having nothing to do. She cited for example, baking cakes, smoking fish, or making semi-cooked food using local specialties, adding that AAR will need to market them.  Excitedly she said, if this should succeed, this most terrible disaster would bring a very special blessing, a new way of life,  unthinkable before.

One such project currently under way is to clean half-a-million salmon cans that emerged out of the rubble. Ascertained that the contents are intact, AAR provided high-pressure cleansing tools, and, though not permanent, this has given jobs to people at ten facilities for the disabled.

AAR JAPAN’s Relief Work at Home and Abroad

Fusako YANASE, the President of AAR
JAPAN, sent local residents the handmade
bags (May 7, 2011, Ofunato-City, Iwate)

In fact, a unique aspect of AAR’s relief work, currently in 15 countries, in addition to general relief, is to give the people, often the disabled, technical training, including dress making, hair dressing, and the building of wheelchairs, fit for each person.

AAR president, Fusako Yanase, says AAR was founded to help refugees overseas; and this is Japan’s duty to the world and it must go on.  She says it’s also Japan’s duty to provide relief to our own fellow Japanese, now faced with this unprecedented plight. She says she has seen destruction, disasters and misery around the world, but never of the scale she saw in northern Japan.

She said there is still an immense need to be met, as so many people are still struggling to survive, and their soup kitchens continue. Earlier, AAR sent trucks and trucks of emergency supplies daily to meet the changing needs. However, now entering the second stage, she said relief work is more varied, more complex, requiring much wise planning. She is mindful in particular not to let any precious funds be wasted; for example, by redundancy, as is often the case in relief work, and never to let their work deprive the local people of their initiative and jobs.  AAR had nearly 20 staff members in the region to meet emergency needs, but this has been reduced to two, having employed nearly 20 locals to take over the work. She said the road to restoration would be long and arduous, but AAR, is determined to stay with it, -- to help people rebuild their lives. AAR works jointly with Support 21, a sister organization formed to assist refugees that have arrived in Japan.
  (to be continued)