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Friday, May 20, 2011

Tokyo is ok - Japan not (yet)

This morning we experienced a small earthquake again nearby Tokyo (5.7 magnitude). It was only a very soft shaking in our office. Many colleagues only looked up shortly and then continued with their discussions or work.

Life in Tokyo and the metropolitan area of Tokyo is back to normal since a few weeks ago already. It was very surprising for me how fast the Japanese people went back to their normal life style.

Of course we had the fear of radiation in tap water and many bought water, or all necessary other items like bread, milk products, etc. But this situation is stable and completely back to normal now. I talked to my friend Oskari a few days ago and he mentioned “it is normal, but still you have this strange feeling that it is not the same as before”. I can agree to this, as we all know that the affected areas of the earthquake still need much more time for recovery and we also know that the nuclear power plant is not fully under control yet. Many people (including myself) have the opinion, that the nuclear situation is not getting worse or better, it needs much more time to be completely solved.
But what do you want to do? Worry the entire day? Leave?

There is no increased radiation level in Tokyo and nothing detected in the tap water anymore (source) – therefore we do what we can do best: continue with our life and help Japan and the entire world with it.

Kaori on her way to Tohoku to help
On Tuesday evening we met Kaori Doi, who is volunteering for the NGO日本ユニバ震災対策チーム” (NUC - Nihon Univa Counter Crisis Team). She was already active as a supporter in an evacuation center during the big Kobe Earthquake (16 years ago) and now she is engaged again, “but the situation is completely different”.

I personally have the feeling (like Stephan explained in his last blog entry) that many people do not fully understand the reality and underestimate the need of support. 

Kaori explained during our discussion that “the tsunami washed away many kilometers of houses and cities, where people lived. This area will be difficult to re-construct in a short time and therefore many people need to continue to live in the evacuation camps with very limited privacy and difficult circumstances. This will be much longer than 16 years ago (in Kobe, there was neither Tsunami nor Nuclear catastrophe).

Just imagine that you have to live in a gym or school with many other people for more than 2 months and you do not know how much longer…

There is a high emotional stress level in these evacuations camps now.

Kaori explained to us based on her experience in Kobe that during the first 2 weeks many people just want to survive and try to contact family members, etc. But then they start to live in the camps and you need more privacy. People “discover” behaviors on others (with whom they live together in the camp or even sleep next to them night by night) which are “annoying” to them. Therefore Kaori and other volunteers tried 16 years ago in Kobe to create separations. They organized mats for more comfort, etc.  All this is needed in order to calm people down and to let them “relax” a little bit.

I also read in some articles on the internet that NGOs started to give foot massages to these “refugees”, as these moments of relaxations are very important (especially if you still feel the aftershocks). It is important to work on the mental balance.

And all this will take much longer this time, because a tsunami hit and destroyed their houses and lands. The radiation problem is an additional problem which worsens the situation even more and makes it impossible for some people to come back to their houses (maybe ever).

Some people tell me sometimes in emails or discussion forums:
Japan is a rich country and we better donate & help countries in Africa or somewhere else

Well, yes. Japan is a rich country, but many people died and left sad people behind. Many people lost everything and cannot even return to the area where they spent their entire life. Many people are and will suffer from the mental stress and traumatic experiences for months. It is a long dragging process, but the willingness of help is decreasing.

In my opinion, Japan is in need for help. It is a different help. It is called (International) Solidarity and Caring. The longer the situation is continuing, the more of this kind of support is needed... especially for children!

(Pictures are taken from other Internet Pages: CTV, Kyodo News)

Monday, May 16, 2011

...experience as a volunteer in Japan...

A few days ago, I wrote already about a friend of mine, Stephan, who went together with an organization called Peaceboat to Ishinomaki. He helped to clean up the streets, talked to the kids and supported the locals. He is very much involved in helping the community here and I asked him to write a short article about his view on the things now.

Please read below and share with us your opinion or experience. What do you think about his view? Did you experience something similar or do you have a complete different opinion about the situation?

Now, we ask Stephan to speak up and share his experience:

"After five weeks going to Ishinomaki and coming back, live and work shifts into a blurry zone of meaningless considering the relief effort in need caused by the devastated tsunami from mid march. Speaking with a lot of volunteers, they seem to have difficulties to concentrate in the first week after the returned to their "normal" work. Useless, minor, narrowed down to be back in their offices.

What we experienced in terms of solidarity and teamwork seems to be unrepeatable in the daily labor. So the all over tone of everybody is. "I wanna go back, I felt so useful in this week, they need more help then my boss." Are we caught in chains, why is it so easy to evolve mutual international respect and togetherness in a situation where are you sticking to basic of living? Is it maybe the common sense to help those in need with the necessary supplies of food and human motivation saying, you are not alone, we think of you?

This is not an empiric study; I only encounter what I experienced. Though I get in line with these volunteers. At the end of June, I will go again to Ishinomaki and will definitely release my second promise.

Soon after the quake my parents in Germany set up a donation account for my family and friends. The account will be closed at the end of May. My mother called me this week and said that about 3.500, Euros already has been raised. I didn't expect this. I was amazed. The money will go towards the Minato Elementary School in Ishinomaki to keep up running the daily school duties and may provide pupils with materials. So I will go again to Ishinomaki, I will do the regular volunteer work and visit the Elementary School to supply the donation by myself.

It's probably trust what makes the difference. There are people in Germany, knowing that I do live in Japan and will find an appropriate occasion to donate the collected money. No question, the bigger organizations like Red Cross as well as Peaceboat do an amazing job and help the people where they can. Though a lot of people who would love to donate searching for a private initiative and somebody they can trust.

Therefore I emphasize everybody who wants to contribute to find a person of trust and then provide donations directly to a local school, private person or cooperate. And build up trust over a longer period then just couple of months.

What is obvious now is that the catastrophe from two months ago is more and more out of the media and only the reactor is worth some news. The amount of volunteers at Peaceboat decreased after the Golden Week. This is a long term project. And it may take two or three times to provide your duty in this exceptional situation.

I was also curious about the Japanese behaviors. Yesterday I witnessed a scene with a French guy who nearly screamed at two Japanese that they shall go to Tohoku and help. The two Japanese bowed fast and whispered “hai hai” as an acknowledgment that they heard what was said without agreeing. Then they said they would love to go but they do not get free from work and if they do on their own, they might lose their job.

So maybe it would be a good thing to doctrine the Japanese people, in an authority society like the Japanese one, from above. Emphasize management's to form teams for volunteer work and take this as an act of corporate social responsibility. It pushes the morality of employees and gives the company a good reputation. And it might help in an authoritarian society.

The volunteers already went can act as a multiplier, as facilitators and presenters about the experienced work in Tohouku hat everybody who goes is highly appreciated and act in the name of humanity and understanding among nations for Japan. This can be a chance."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Small Ideas with Big Impact

At the moment I am on my vacations in Germany, but met many people and schools which wants to help and exactly this is what we want to achieve: children worldwide helping children in Japan.

I just like to give some examples of the great help which we are receiving for the school kids in Japan:

  • Elementary School in Lohe (Germany) organized a flea market
  • A colleague of us in Italy is planning to host a charity party
  • The Heinrich Boell School in Goettingen (Germany) organized a charity cafe
  • The Elementary School in Benkhausen (Germany) did hold a church service and collected a donation for our project
  • A French DJ is planning to organize a charity event
  • Gesamtschule Porta Westfalica (Germany) is planning to coordinate picture paintings and a small concert or party
  • Schuetzenverein Nettelstedt (Shooting Club) - Germany - organized a ballon competition, sold flower chains and collected donations four our cause
  • Janika sold private toys and things at a local flea market in Germany
  • Schools in Egypt, Vietnam, US, Germany, France, Singapore, ... are painting pictures for the kids in Japan
  • Herlitz is donating 1000 School Cones
  • DHL is coordinating the logistics
  • ...and many more private donators

We like to thank you to all of you for your courage, motivation and support. AND we promise that we will deliver all of your help to the kids personally.

Please have a look at some of the activities below.