Mercy Corps

Back to school again!

Mercy Corps and Peace Winds preparing activities for the children, and offering information to parents and counselors on what to expect from children who have experienced trauma.
Blog Post:  Posted April 23, 2011, 11:00 am by Carol Skowron

This week brought an important step in the attempt to return to some sort of normalcy in the tsunami-affected area of Japan. School started again.

The quake and tsunami of March 11 occurred just as school was letting out for the year. The schools that weren’t damaged turned into evacuation centers — well-organized communities, with living spaces, play areas, meal times and information boards. The school yards yielded to military trucks and tents, cookstoves and stockpiles. On some, temporary housing is being constructed to house displaced families.

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Here, the new school year usually begins again in April. For most children in the affected area, school was delayed by a few weeks. To make space for the children to attend classes again, some evacuation centers moved people to other locations. In many, classes are beginning in half of the building, while the other half is reserved for sleeping and living quarters, such as they are. Everyone, from the board of education down to teachers and families, have been working tirelessly to prepare for the new school year.

Some children are living with the new reality of living in evacuation centers; others are fortunate to have their homes intact. All have experienced the effects of the earthquake and tsunami that turned their lives upside down. We all hope they can begin to establish a feeling of normalcy as they go back to their routines, surrounded by their community of classmates and teachers.

Mercy Corps and Peace Winds are preparing activities for the children, from creative arts to sports, to extend throughout the year. We are offering information to parents and counselors on what to expect from children who have experienced trauma. But for today, it is simply so good to hear that they have started back to school once again.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011 – One month after the massive Sendai earthquake struck Japan, and as aftershocks rattle the country – and the nerves of survivors – Mercy Corps continues to work with our partner agency, Peace Winds, to bring relief and recovery to people in need. The 9.0 March 11 quake was the strongest to hit Japan in at least 100 years and world’s fourth-largest since 1900. It triggered a 30-foot tsunami that swept away everything in its path and damaged all six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. In the past week, three powerful aftershocks, ranging from 6.3 to 7.1, have kept people on edge and left half a million homes without electricity.

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The joint Mercy Corps and Peace Winds response is providing immediate relief supplies to families living in evacuation centers and helping families who have moved into temporary homes set up their new living spaces. We are beginning to offer post-trauma support through our signature Comfort for Kids program. We are also taking steps to begin early economic recovery in tsunami-affected zones and to improve access to clean water and sanitation.

Latest Casualty Reports

As of Monday, the Japanese National Police Agency reports that 13,116 people have been confirmed dead and more than 14,000 remain missing.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that 200,000 people are still taking refuge in evacuation centers. About 260,000 people do not have access to water and 180,000 households are without electricity.

Difficult Living Conditions, Slow Transport Survivors’ living conditions continue to be very difficult. Damage and mounds of debris are extensive. Electricity is limited and fuel is in short supply. The displaced have also lost their vehicles and means of transportation. Central heating is still not available at many evacuation centers and the weather remains cold.

Transporting people and supplies to the disaster area is complicated by ongoing fuel shortages and the crisis at the nuclear facility.

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Emergency Supplies to Four Cities

Our response team began delivering emergency assistance to Japan on March 14. Today we are providing supplies and support to the tsunamidevastated cities of Kesennuma,  ikuzentakata, Ofunato and Minami Sanriku Cho.

Via air and road, our team has delivered three balloon shelters that house up to 100 people as well as large numbers of smaller tents, blue tarps, blankets, space heaters, kerosene, medical face masks, towels, mattresses, clothing, bottled water, sanitary supplies such as diapers and toilet paper, school supplies and food. We also have hired local carpenters to construct a bathing facility using recycled wood debris from the tsunami zone.

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Next Steps: Relief and Recovery

As supplies of basics such as food, water and clothing have become more accessible in shelters, our team has begun shifting focus to economic recovery and post-trauma work. Distributions are now comprised of specific items that evacuees tell us they are lacking, such as books, toys and school supplies for children.

The response team is making steps to begin an economic recovery program in the tsunami affected north. It would provide survivors with cash or vouchers to use at local merchants, to meet their immediate needs for food, clothing and other basic supplies. This type of voucher program will allow survivors to prioritize their own needs and also support the badly affected local economy.

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Comfort for Kids Program Eases Trauma

Mercy Corps is launching our signature Comfort for Kids program, which builds the ability of local communities to help children recover from the emotional effects of a large-scale disaster.

Comfort for Kids has provided post-trauma assistance to children and caregivers in settings as diverse as New York City after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Sichuan Province of China after the powerful 2008 earthquake and, most recently, the earthquake zone of Haiti.

The Japan Comfort for Kids program will begin with a pilot at the Kesennuma evacuation center which, like the other centers where our team is delivering supplies, houses children whose family members are still missing. Grief, loss and the continuing stress of aftershocks make it a priority to provide children with emotional support.

Mercy Corps’ expert team is working to ensure that the program is appropriately adapted for Japanese children and the disaster-affected region. We will hire and train local staff to implement this program. We also plan to adopt some elements specifically for the many elderly citizens who have been affected by the disaster. Trainings will be conducted in Japanese and program publications will be distributed in Japanese and English.

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A Ten-Year Partnership with Peace Winds

Over the past decade, Mercy Corps and Peace Winds have worked together numerous times to respond to disasters. Our organizations cooperated to provide humanitarian assistance to families in war-torn northern Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the US Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

We also jointly responded to the massive 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, which required a largescale and complicated logistical operation.

Peace Winds is dedicated to the support of people in distress, threatened by conflict, poverty or other turmoil. The organization was established in 1996. It has provided emergency humanitarian relief, and assistance with restoration and development, to refugees who fled their countries, domestic refugees who suffer in their own countries, disaster survivors and poverty-stricken people.

Our partnership combines Peace Winds’ Japanese base and global reach with Mercy Corps’ expertise responding to disasters around the world, to assist the Japanese people.

How to Help

Mercy Corps is accepting donations toward our Japan earthquake response. Your gift to our Japan Earthquake Response Fund helps meet the needs of families affected by the disaster.

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Update April 2, 2011

Mercy Corps Launching Comfort for Kids / Japan Starts to Rebuild From Desolation

Working alongside our partner Peace Winds, our team continues to deliver emergency supplies — including large shelters, tents, kerosene space heaters, blankets, instant rice and fresh produce — to families evacuated from homes in four tsunami-stricken cities in northeastern Japan.

This week we are launching Comfort for Kids, a program to help children recover from the emotional effects of a large-scale disaster. We are also exploring the possibility of an economic recovery program to help families meet their needs while infusing much-needed cash into struggling local businesses.

Our most experienced disaster-relief expert is on the ground with other Mercy Corps team members in Japan to help coordinate efforts.

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Excepts from Malka Older’s Blog .. –Follows Malka’s blog here:

Starting to build after Japan’s tsunami

April 2, 2011, by Malka Older

It’s hard to describe the desolation left by a tsunami, because there is so little left that is nameable.

The word that comes to mind is wasteland: a static marsh of mud, wooden planks, torn up land, unidentifiable fragments of metal. Gazing at the wreckage of Kesennuma harbor, my eyes caught on a few recognizable shapes: the glazed Japanese roof tiles of houses tipped on their sides or upside down; houses on top of mangled cars; mangled cars on top of houses; boats on top of houses or cars or both. But most of what I saw had been so utterly destroyed that I couldn’t even decipher what it used to be.

Even so, my colleagues assured me that what I was seeing was a vast improvement since their previous visit, and as we watched debris were being loaded into dump trucks and roads were being cleared, the workers seemingly undaunted by the immensity of the task ahead.

Near one of the Kesennuma shelters we saw that only three weeks after the devastating tsunami, the government is already constructing temporary shelters. I was amazed by the speed of this response; however, due to the scale of the devastation, it is estimated that it will take up to a year to build enough temporary shelters for all the people who have been displaced.

Shelter alone does not answer all of the needs of the displaced. For the vulnerable families selected to move into the first sets of shelters, Mercy Corps’ partner Peace Winds Japan is working with the local government to provide basic necessities for the transition, such as cooking pots, bedclothes, and money for clothes, soap, and shampoo.

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Joy Portella, Mercy Corps’ Communications Director, is currently in Japan. Follows Joy’s blog here:

Excerpts from Joy’s  Blog

Final impressions of Japan

April 1, 2011 by Joy Portella

As I prepare to leave Japan, there are so many impressions of this disaster and the Japanese people that stick in my mind. I’d like to share a few.

Dignity: Despite the cramped conditions, traumatic circumstances and uncertain future, the Japanese people have retained an amazing sense of dignity and order. In talking to dozens of people in evacuation centers, there were very few — if any — complaints. The shelters were surprisingly orderly and clean. You could tell people were fighting valiantly to make the best of a very tough situation.

I saw this dignity in rows of shoes. It’s traditional for Japanese people to remove their shoes before entering someone’s home. This tradition continues in the evacuation centers, where rows of well-ordered shoes rest outside of classrooms, gyms and hallways — wherever people have carved out small squares of floor to call home. I wouldn’t dare insult the evacuees by walking into their “homes” with my shoes on.

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Resiliency: The Japanese people can and will bounce back. Driving through Kesennuma town, I saw stores being reopened, street lights turning on, and people clearing debris. Our team visited a grocery store called Maruhon Cowboy — fantastic store name! — in the middle of the heavily damaged downtown that had electricity, half stocked shelves, and lots of customers. The store manager said they’d started cleaning up the day after the disaster, and had reopened ten days later when the power came back. The speed of that store’s recovery and the get-it-done attitude of the staff were remarkable.

Quest for normalcy: One of my Peace Winds colleagues recently shared that this disaster has made people value “normal life” — its rhythms, comforts and predictability — more than ever before. I think that’s true, and all around me in the tsunami zone, I found people trying to recreate bits of normalcy.

One day I was in a sports complex that’s now home to 1,500 people living on every square inch of the building’s floor space. It’s an incredible site, and in the middle of this sea of people, two barbers had set up chairs and were cutting men’s hair. They had both lost their barbershops, but had decided to cut hair in the shelter to keep themselves busy and help people feel a little more normal in the most abnormal situation you can imagine.

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Need: There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not Japan needs assistance because the country is so wealthy and well prepared for natural disasters. My previous blogs have depicted both the Japanese government’s amazing response to this disaster and some of the outstanding needs I’ve seen on the ground.

There’s one image that opened my eyes to Japan’s need for healing more than any other. I was with the Mercy Corps and Peace Winds team in Minami Sanriku Cho visiting the most heavily damaged area of town. Amid a field of rubble as far as the eye could see, I spotted a middle-aged man sitting on a log in front of a roaring fire. He was blankly staring into the distance, not moving.

I introduced myself to Fuminori Onodera. He pointed sadly to a pile of debris to his right and explained that’s where his house used to be. Now his family, including his wife and two teenage children, are staying in a neighbor’s undamaged house. He didn’t know how long they’d be there; he was craving information about what the future will hold. Fuminori told me his children are trying to stay busy and upbeat but one of their closest friends had been killed, they have nightmares, and he is worried about them.

Fuminori — like so many other people I met in northern Japan — looked like he was still in a state of shock, as if he’d become terribly lost. Helping people like him find their way back will take weeks, months, or even years. Mercy Corps and our partner Peace Winds will do what we can to help.

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“We have bread and rice”

March 28, 2011, by Joy Portella

Northern Japan is struggling to get back to business. Riding through Kesennuma town in Miyagi Prefecture, we saw checkered activity: some stores destroyed, others being gutted and cleaned, still others with doors wide open and — in some very lucky cases — their lights on.

The heart and soul of many coastal towns in Japan is fishing. The mayor of Kesennuma told us that the fishing industry impacts up to 80 percent of the local economy. Yesterday we took a long walk — through thick mud and the ruins of cars, buildings and businesses — to the center of that industry: Kesennuma Port.

The Port is in shambles, and its vast wholesale fish market is just remnant of what must have been a bustling marketplace. That’s where we met Ryuji Ando, who owns a nearby fish store. Ando, clad in head-to-toe waterproof garb, is working hard to clean up his store.

While his building is structurally sound, he doesn’t have electricity. He’s applying for government funding to help reopen his business, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get it. He also needs fish, but with the port destroyed, there’s none coming in.

Ando is frustrated with the speed of the government’s response. “I need electricity, the port reopened, and this rubble cleared up. I’m ready to get back to business,” he declares.

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Back in town, we drive by a very American-style 7-Eleven store. A man out front holds high a cardboard sign that reads: “We have bread and rice.”

What the store doesn’t have is electricity or refrigeration equipment, but the shelves are stocked with decent supplies of drinks, bread, lunch boxes and rice packets wrapped in seaweed — the favorite local snack food. It’s cold enough to keep these goods without refrigeration.

We speak with the franchise’s owner Yusuke Ota. He tells us that they reopened a few days ago, and they’re operating 2-3 hrs a day. They’ve been busy, with a mix of customers from evacuation centers and just folks from the neighborhood. He’s getting regular supplies of food from headquarters in Tokyo and, as long as he can keep selling, he’ll keep stocking the shelves.

Ota and his small staff are optimistic but they’re not trouble free. He doesn’t have insurance, as is the case with many small business owners here. He desperately needs new equipment and repairs, and isn’t clear how he’ll get funding for these.

Ota’s situation is similar to the plight of many small business owners in northern Japan. There’s plenty of eagerness and entrepreneurial drive, as well as the traditional underpinnings of a vibrant private sector that smart businesspeople can leverage to their benefit. But in the short term, they need funding and a boost to survive and rebuild.

In the coming weeks, Mercy Corps hopes to pursue several market-based interventions to help the Japanese people get back to business. First of all, we hope to implement voucher schemes to allow evacuees to “buy” goods they want — food, clothes, furniture, home repair items — rather than being given supplies they might not need. This will give customers choice, as well as start pumping money back into local economies.

Next, we’d like to help small business owners like Ota get the short-term funding — and possibly debt relief — they need to make repairs, purchase equipment and replace inventory. In a country as business savvy as Japan, it won’t take much to get local economies back up and running. With the right strategic, targeted boosts, we’re confident the Japanese people will recover.

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Joy Portella, Mercy Corps’ Communications Director, is currently in Japan.
Follows Joy’s blog here:

Excerpts from Joy’s  Blog

Helping the Japan tsunami’s littlest survivors

March 26, 2011

The youngest survivors of disasters are often the most resilient, but also the most fragile. While earthquakes and tsunamis rob children of the same things that most adults hold dear — homes, families, friends — kids lack adult coping mechanisms. The emotional toll can be devastating.

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Today in Kesennuma, a city of about 70,000 people in northeast Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, I witnessed both the resiliency and fragility of children. In the city’s main evacuation center — a converted sports complex — a play room has been set aside for small children. Today was the first day it’s been staffed by certified childcare providers who are creating activities to make life a little more normal and pleasant under the current, difficult circumstances.

That’s where I met Hidayuki Suzuki, age 40, his wife Miho, age 24, and their three-year-old daughter Rin. The Suzuki family had been living in the evacuation center for two weeks since their apartment was severely damaged by flooding….Rin became very ill when they first arrived at the center. Despite her current cheerful appearance, she’s still on the mend.  Read more on Joy’s Blog…

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Neighbors for 33 years

The Satos and the Abes lived as neighbors for 33 years in the Shizugawa neighborhood of Mirami Sanriku Cho, a city in northern Japan. After their houses were destroyed by the recent earthquake and tsunami, they’re neighbors again — along with more than 200 other people on a high school gym floor.

Kichiro Sato is 80 years old, and he reminds me of my father. Even crouched down, living in a piece of floor about 8’ x 6’ with a makeshift border fashioned out of cardboard, he looks calm and proud. Like many elderly gentlemen, he seems simultaneously frail and incredibly strong. And he certainly doesn’t look 80.

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The Satos and Abes invited me to sit and join them, and Mr. Sato told me the harrowing story of how they were trapped, and nearly lost, when the tsunami hit. The two couples had been at a celebratory gathering of about 500 local elderly people. The gathering was on the third floor of a building, and when the tsunami rolled in, everyone was told to stay inside and go up to the fourth floor.

They remained stuck — waiting to be rescued — on the fourth floor for two days, crowded and standing in partial flooding. Mr. Sato pressed his arms tight to his sides to display how closely the senior citizens were crammed into the space.

Now homeless, the future is precarious for the Satos. But they’re lucky to have their son and daughter living in the same evacuation center. Their son is a fireman and has been working nonstop since the earthquake in rescue, and now, recovery. The Abes are alone.

Read more on Joy’s Blog ..

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March 15, 2011

Over the last several years, Randy Martin has led Mercy Corps’ emergency response to a long list of disasters and conflicts including the Haiti earthquake, the Indian Ocean tsunami, epic floods in Pakistan, war in Congo and Hurricane Katrina. Today, as the agency’s Director of Global Emergency Operations, he’s headed to earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged Japan to help strengthen the relief operations of our partner Peace Winds.

Martin left today for Japan and will arrive later this week. Some of his emergency team members will follow over the coming days, helping bring much-needed assistance to a nation that has lost at least 3,300 people and witnessed the evacuation of 370,000 from their homes.

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March 14, 2011

Three staff members from our partner, Peace Winds, distributed food and materials to earthquake survivors in Kesennuma City on Monday.

Here are some of the items they delivered via helicopter from Tokyo:

  • Balloon shelters
  • Emergency tents
  • Blankets
  • Cooking fuel
  • Tarpaulins
  • Pregelatinized rice
  • Bread

The team reports that heavy winds make it difficult to set up the balloon shelters, each of which hold 100 people.

The response team is visiting school buildings that have converted into temporary shelters for the evacuees, and working in close coordination with disaster-control headquarters in Kesennuma.

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March 12, 2011

We’re accepting to provide emergency assistance to earthquake survivors in Japan on behalf of our longstanding partner, Peace Winds, which has dispatched a response team to build emergency shelters and provide water, food and blankets.

Our Global Emergency Operations teams around the world are readying to respond.

Mercy Corps helps people turn the crises they confront into the opportunities they deserve. Driven by local needs, our programs provide communities in the world’s toughest places with the tools and support they need to transform their own lives. Our worldwide team in 36 countries is improving the lives of 19 million people.

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