Notes from a Japan aid worker

Editor's note: The following notes are from Mitsuko Sobata, World Vision Japan communications and advocacy officer, on the ground with World Vision relief and assessment teams.

March 17, 2011

Today, our relief items arrived with two trucks with diapers, blankets, water and wet wipes. We are expecting three more trucks to arrive tomorrow. I was deeply encouraged that 30 volunteers, who are students and teachers from the local junior high here, helped to unload the items into a warehouse in Tome and then, later onto our vehicle as well as the local authority's vehicles.

A survivor displaced from his home because of the tsunami recounts his experience. (WV/2011)

We will start distribution tomorrow in Minami Sanriku, where 9,600 people have been displaced in 40 shelters. It is one of the towns hit most severely by the tsunami. Authorities have a well-organized way of distribution, listing the needs of the people and a schedule for NGOs. Ours is slotted for tomorrow. Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada, will be joining us alongside World Vision Japan's National Director.

The highlight for me today was when I sat down and spoke with the Mr. Sato, town mayor of Minami Sanriku, and Mr. Endo, the vice town mayor. It was hard for me to even watch them tell their stories as I could see tears formed in their eyes and the very sight of that broke my heart.

"The tsunami came when I was having a meeting. This area is disaster prone and was hit by an earthquake 50 years ago, so we all had preparedness training but this is beyond any of our expectations. I lost many of my young staff to the tsunami. At this very moment, I'm just barely managing in this hellish situation, " Mr. Endo told me.

Mr. Sato, 62 years old, told me with a downcasted tone, "We really appreciate for your support because what we can do at this moment is rely on other people's support. This is a small town. People will tend to forget our situation here after one or two months but situations like this takes a LONG time to recover, maybe years. I hope you will continue to support us and please... do not forget us."

His words were heart-wrenching to my soul.

World Vision Japan is now arranging to respond to the needs of Minamisanriku survivors. We hope that we can send candles, flashlights, small radios, wet tissues, and toilet papers as early as possible.

March 16, 2011

I was at Minami Sanriku, a town severely hit by the tsunami next to Tome. Everything was washed away and I cannot even begin to describe my feelings. I am overwhelmed by what I saw.

Relief workers in Minami Sanriku, one of the most severely hit towns by the tsunami, search for survivors. (WV/2011)

Here, I met with a 60-year old man who told his story of loss to me. In his town of 20,000 in population, the tsunami left half of the population dead, with more than 8,000 people displaced. "The tsunami came 25minutes after the earthquake but here, we are all used to earthquakes and tsunamis and we received trainings on what to do when something like that happens. So I ran to the evacuation place but this time, the waves were much higher than usual. I had to run further up into the hills and I remember vividly that 30 others were running with me," said the man.

He continued, "The night was cold and only 2 houses remained unwashed by the tsunami, we put up two nights there. There was no electricity, it was dark. We started a small fire and I used snow water to boil rice. It was just a small amount but 30 of us shared that meal together. There were some children too."

I find it hard to believe it happened to the old man when I listened to him sharing his story. He told me he lost six relatives that night. It is unimaginable what he has gone through.

I don't think we have enough to eat or rest in times like these but surprisingly, I am not tired. I believe The Lord is guiding us and kept us going from all the prayers from my colleagues, family and friends.

Tomorrow local time, Mitsuko and her team depart to Tome early morning for a relief distribution to benefit 6,000 people.

March 15, 2011

Yesterday morning, we awoke early after reaching Sendai late the evening before. We started in Sendai city, which looked like it usually does. Then, only 20 minutes away, everything changed. We go to where the tsunami had hit and the difference was so shocking – trees were down, cars were covered in mud and thrown around from where they had originally been. We saw so many that had been washed right into town by the tsunami.

Mitsuko Sobata, World Vision Japan communications and advocacy officer, near Sendai, Japan. (WV/2011)

We tried to reach Arahama, one of the worst-hit areas, where more than 300 people are thought to have died, but the road was completely cut off. It was so shocking realizing that we weren’t in the worst part, and yet it was still so devastated. We’d seen the pictures before we left Tokyo, of course, but standing there, the scale of the disaster really hit me. To think; so many communities washed away, so many thousands of people, from right where we were standing. It was so much to take in. And the worst thing was that it was so quiet. Too quiet.

Part of the process of World Vision being able to reach people is seeking permission from the local authorities, under whom we will co-ordinate. When we went to the building to get this permission yesterday, there were so many people, all looking so tired, sleeping there on a piece of cardboard, with nothing in their possessions but the clothes they were wearing. On the walls, there was note after note from people who’ve lost families. One mother was on the phone, so distressed, as she tried to find her children, but she couldn’t get through to anyone. It just reminded me why it’s so important that we do everything we can to help people.

Through it all, I have been so encouraged by the strength of people. They are pulling together, staying calm, helping each other, sharing what they have. They are all shocked, but at the same time they are working together. It makes me so proud to be Japanese and to see the people of Japan come together. This is the biggest disaster our country has faced, and we have such a big challenge ahead of us but it is a time for us to be united as a nation.

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Read related posts: Skype interview with World Vision relief worker in Japan, Rich Stearns on the Japan quake and tsunami, Japan quake and tsunami updates + video, and 8.9-magnitude earthquake hits coast of Japan, island nations face tsunami warning


    hay.........i'am angela from idonesia...keep faith in God coz nothing impossible.......we always pray for japan....God Bless

    praying everyday for all in Japan. God Bless all.

    To Mitsuko Sobata...Please contact me regarding any family needing to find a place to live in the USA. American Japanese family here.

    With God's help you shall overcome!! God be with you. You are in my prayers always.

    Hi please continue these great updates. We love the details on your operations. Minamisanriku has been in the press often so many people know how seriously affected they were.

    The whole nation is praying for all the victims and to all the Japanese people that they may overcome this.

    To each of the World Vision relief workers working in the tsunami and earthquake disturbed regions of Japan, you have my deepest respect and sympathy. This applies to the administrative staff who are helping to coordinate and gather funding for the work of the amazing field staff people. I promise to contribute to the funding of your organizations relief efforts in Japan. May God and the many people who surround you give you strength to face each of these demanding days and each of many challenges, to the best of your ability. Thank you for your grace under pressure, your compassion and your strong professional action in the current time of crisis.We are with you!
    Sincerely, John McGuire (Canada)

    @John McGuire- I am blown away with humility from your comment. THANK YOU. I'm passing your comment onto my colleagues in Japan and those at our U.S. office. Thanks again.

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