Remembering the Forgotten

Japan’s massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in 2011 may have left the front page of the news, but for AmeriCares, it remains top of mind. The disaster relief/humanitarian aid organization recently targeted $1 million in aid to the country, specifically to rebuild a group home for disabled survivors and to fund programs for relief workers.

The March 11, 2011, disaster left 20,000 people dead or missing. It also wiped out many coastal villages; many remain displaced. AmeriCares has taken a two-pronged approach to the disaster: $3.5 million in immediate relief for the broader population, and the later $1 million aimed at overlooked persons. The initial response included 13,000 hot meals and 22,000 masks to filter dust.

Aid for Disabled Survivors

Globally, AmeriCares focuses its efforts on delivering donated medicines, medical supplies, and humanitarian aid. Since the organization’s founding in 1982, AmeriCares has provided more than $10 billion in aid in 164 countries. Global Medical Assistance, its largest program, provides supplies on a regular basis to clinics, hospitals, and health programs in 40 countries, including the United States. It also operates free clinics and provides supplies to U.S.-based medical professionals who travel overseas to volunteer.

Within hours of the Japan earthquake, AmeriCares had mobilized air shipments of supplies. AmeriCares opened an office in Sendai in 2011 to oversee its relief efforts and anticipates work in Japan will continue through at least 2014. Long-term projects will focus on restoring health services, helping survivors cope with trauma, assisting evacuees, and supporting people with disabilities.

The $1 million grant will be used primarily in support of those greater goals, with specific projects: The tsunami washed away a group home in the fishing town of Ofunato City. All of the residents survived, but in the year after, remained in temporary housing or with relatives who were unable to care for them long-term. The funds will rebuild the group home, providing the disabled residents the care they need, as well as a return to the stability that they had lacked.

The organization also provided funds to build a replacement headquarters for the only social services agency that served the disabled in the northeastern Miyagi Prefecture.

Hope, Gardens, and Mental Health

AmeriCares focused on meeting the mental health needs of survivors. In coastal towns, it helped survivors plant gardens where their homes once stood, a powerful symbol of hope and rebirth. The organization also provided counseling for children who lost siblings in the disaster.

Part of its most recent $1 million grant funds mental health for relief workers, as well, supporting counseling for those who continue to deal with stress, grief, and depression in Japan.

Initially, AmeriCares responded to the disaster with delivery of relief and medical supplies and personal hygiene items for those living in shelters. As survivors moved into temporary housing, AmeriCares provided hot meals and space heaters. The organization also built two dental clinics to replace health facilities destroyed by the disaster.

With a disaster of the scale of the Japanese earthquake, recovery will take many years. While the initial outpouring of support globally was significant, large-scale disasters like this require a long-term commitment and a flexibility to evolve as needs change. At the one-year anniversary, approximately 300,000 Japanese were still living in temporary housing. The need for socialization, maintaining a sense of community, and meeting basic needs continues, and AmeriCares sets a strong standard for others to follow.

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