Suffer together, rebuild together -- notes from a Japan aid worker

Editor’s note: The following note is from Chris Webster, World Vision global rapid response team communications, in Minami Sanriku, Japan.

March 29, 2011

It’s 7:00 am, an aftershock shakes the building awake. It's big, lasts for maybe 30 seconds. Even two weeks after the quake and tsunami, tremors and ripples continue to wreak havoc and remind survivors of their fears and losses.

I’m in Miyagi, one of the hardest-hit areas, with World Vision’s emergency response team. We’re helping distribute thousands of blankets and other essential items as temperatures reach freezing point across this part of Japan.

In the coming days we're establishing a program of activities to provide safe places for children to play and learn while their families try to adjust to the violent changes in their plans and fortunes.

A school building in Miyagi becomes a safe shelter for tsunami and quake survivors. (Itoh Kei/WV/2011)

17,000 are reported missing and unaccounted for

Survivors now live in makeshift camps in public buildings, sports centers and schools. The pounding tsunami turned their towns into a soup of twisted steel, wood, mud, concrete and chaos –cars perch on top of buildings 50 feet high.

The Japanese government has found refuge for around 250,000 people in 1,800 centers across the coastline. Many are raised up on hills, offering views of their destroyed towns below.  Not forgetting that residents also must deal with the ongoing uncertainty of radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear reactor.

Survivors come together

In the evacuation centers I visited today, people have divided duties amongst residents. A group of women thrown together by disaster, took control of the cooking duties. They chopped vegetables and boiled huge pans of Miso soup over a log fire, serving much-needed hot food for the 150 people staying there.

Fairness and equality are extremely important here. These values protect and build on what is a tangible sense of solidarity – “we have suffered together and will rebuild together” is a collective feeling here.

Cell phones keep people connected

Medical teams are on site at the centers here. There are aisles of boxes for different types of aid and even cell phone charging units to ensure people can stay connected.

The access to cell phones may well have saved thousands more lives.  Moments after this morning’s aftershock I received an alert on my cell phone warning me of a possible tsunami. The television and radios carry the same message.  The warning did not materialize this time

There is certainly no quick-fix for long-term reconstruction in Japan.  And there is a complicated humanitarian and development road ahead as rebuilding plans start to be drawn up. But the care and commitment of the Japanese people will, no doubt, ensure that lives, livelihoods and communities are rebuilt in time.

Read related posts, more notes from Japan aid workers: Children are our hope — notes from a Japan aid worker, Notes from a Japan aid worker


    Thank you for his uplifting update. The Japanese people are truly the epitome of how we As Christians should act in an ongoing disaster.

    I would like to know where I can donate items to be shipped to Japan for the disaster victims. I'm in the Tacoma Washington area. My mother wants to donate items she made too.

    Thanks in advance,
    Allen Eriksen

    @Allen Eriksen- Thanks for your desire to help tsunami and quake survivors in Japan. However, World Vision does not typically accept donated items in disaster relief situations since we work to address needs like water, shelter and child-well being. You might be interested in reading this post that has taught me a lot about the best ways to help in situations like this one: Thanks again.

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