I can't seem to tear myself away from the news and Tweets, have to know the latest that's happening there. But I'm so far removed from the disaster, that I feel like I should be just moving on. I am, working and all, but it's still hard to not think about.
This is a blog post I found in Japanese, that I got the author's permission to translate.
(Very, very roughly translated by Ayako H. from http://chodo.posterous.com/45938410, with permission from the author. Much thanks to Claudia M. for copy editing.)
To those youths who want to help the victims of the earthquake in Japan: My short-sighted experience
The Kobe Earthquake struck the day after my senior high school exams.
In my dreams, I heard the rumbling sound of many approaching trucks grow and next thing I knew, the whole house was shaking. My father woke me and by the time we’d finished opening the front door, closing the gas line and turning on the TV, the Hanshin Expressway had been demolished. What I remember is the fear as the house shook, the surreal quality of the TV news and the eerie quietness in the city.
I was supposed to go to school, review the exams and do a self-assessment, and meet with the teacher for the second round of exams. After some internal debate, I set toward school on my bicycle. The moat around Osaka Castle was flooded.
At school, everything was normal. Some students weren’t in school but the teachers didn’t speak to it. Everyone solemnly conducted the self-assessment and the meetings with the teacher. Some of my friends were from Sannomiya and Nishinomiya, so they were naturally not at school. During lunch, two other friends and I talked about going to volunteer at the disaster site.
As school was about to let out, our homeroom instructor, a physics teacher, addressed the class:
“Some teachers and students from our school are victims of this earthquake, and they will not be able to come to school. Some of you have completed your exams, and your jobs as seniors applying for colleges may be complete. There may be some among you who, out of a sense of justice or morality, may want to go to the disaster area. That’s not a bad thing to do, but frankly, you will not be of help. But if you still want to go and do something, please listen to what I have to say.
“First, you must take your own food and once it runs out, come home. You must not eat the food provided for the disaster victims.
“Take sleeping bags and tents. Dry, clean floors belong to the victims. You cannot take that space away to sleep.
“After you register as a volunteer, you cannot refuse any task assigned to you. There’s nothing more damaging to collective effort than desertion.
“Although you have no technical skills, all of you are young and strong. If you can remember these things, you may be of some help.
“However, I would prefer that you not go and instead, focus on your exams. After you get into college, build up your technical or professional knowledge and experience, and 10, 20 years from now, I would like to see you become people who can prevent these disasters.”
I’ve forgotten some words here and there, but I remember clearly, even today, what the teacher meant.
In the end, like the physics teacher said, my friends and I were of no help.
We did some small tasks, like distributing bread, helping the elderly move, and cleaning around the shelters. The food we took ran out in five days. We didn’t take baths, but we were told we had to sleep inside the shelter due to security issues. Infrastructure maintenance and brick removal were performed swiftly and adeptly by the fire department and the Self-Defense Force. It’s like we were non-existent, and we were treated like kids playing make-believe rescuers. There were other youths who were there empty-handed and refused tasks that would get them dirty. If asked whether there was a difference between them and us, in terms of what we contributed, it would have been hard to say yes.
What we learned at the disaster area was that the mere existence of “people in need” and “people who can help” does not change the situation. In order to a community to act, there must be “people who move others to act.” This may seem like common sense to adults, but as kids we were totally unaware of it.
We left the area, awestruck by brutal reality. I didn’t get into college that year so after one more year of studying, finally became a college student in Kyoto. By then, my passion about the disaster area had dissipated. That means our sense of justice was just a facade. I’m being honest now, and I do regret it. I couldn’t even maintain what I felt about Kobe for one year.
Upon this latest disaster, I’m sure there are many youths who want to help the victims, want to do something for the disaster-stricken areas. But my advice to you is not to rush. There’s nothing you can personally do at the site. In fact, you will be in the way of real disaster relief. Right now, all you can do is donate money and donate blood. That’s fine – that’s still an admirable act. Be proud to do that.
Then keep up that passion for one year. If after one year, you still feel as strongly, you will see opportunities to act. There will still be important things to do, like maintaining temporary residences and helping victims get back to their daily lives, that will be needed even more critically than immediately after the disaster. There will be nonprofit organizations that rise to meet those needs. Make your decision then. A disaster-stricken area will always need kind people like you who think, “I may not be able to do anything but I want to help.” That decision might change the rest of your life.
I’m now a GIS analyst and even though my area of expertise isn’t entirely related and I didn’t intend this to be my goal, I’ve come to a place where I think I might be able to help in the area of disaster prevention. Compared to my senior year in high school, I think I’ve become someone who can help others, if even just a little.
[There are many options available to donate. Here are a few:
International Medical Corp (https://www.internationalmedicalcorps.org/SSLPage.aspx?pid=1967)
Japan Society of Northern California (http://give2asia.org/japansociety)
Thank you for reading.]