Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What I can do

The only skill I have to contribute that's worth anything is translation. Here's an inspiring and empowering blog entry that I found:

Original source: 被災者の役に立ちたいと考えている優しい若者達へ

To all the kind-hearted young people who want to do something for the victims—A piece of mind from my experience as a naive youth

It was the day after the central university entrance exam in my last year of high school that the Hanshin Awaji earthquake happened. Somewhere between dream and consciousness, I heard an ominous rumbling like that of a thousand trucks coming from afar, and I woke to find the entire house was shaking. My father woke me up, opened the front door, shut off the gas nozzle, and turned on the TV. The Hanshin freeway had collapsed. I remember the fear from the tremor, the inability to understand what I was seeing on television, and the silence in the city.

I had to go to school that day for a self-assessment of the university exam and an interview for the second part of the exam. I was hesitant, but I eventually took off on my bicycle. There was water overflowing from the moat around Osaka Castle.

As school, everything was as usual. Some students hadn't showed up, but our teacher said nothing. The self-assessment and the interviews were carried out solemnly. Our friends from San'nomiya and Nishinomiya had not shown up. During our lunch break, two friends and I discussed that we should go out and volunteer after the oral exams were over.

And then at the end of the school day, our physics teacher started to speak.
"Some of our teacher and students have been affected by the earthquake and are unable to come to school. Many of you have finished your university entrance exams, and your application processes are over, and may be moved by your sense of justice to march into the affected areas. This is not wrong. But to be honest, there is nothing that you could do. If you still feel that you want to do something for the victims, listen carefully to what I'm going to tell you.

First, take your own food, and when you run out, come home. Do not touch the food that is meant for the victims.
Bring your own sleeping bags and tents. The dry floor is space for the victims to sleep on, not you.
Once you have registered as a volunteer, do not refuse any type of work that you are given, no matter what. There is no bigger hindrance than people that drop out half way when working as a group. If you are ready to abide by these rules, you may be of some help to the victims. You have no skills, but you're young, smart, and have energy.

But my honest opinion is that you should remain here and focus on your exam preparations, acquire specialized skills and knowledge in university, and become someone who can help prevent disasters in the next ten, twenty years."

I forget what was said word for word, but I remember what the gist of what our teacher wanted to tell us.

Like our physics teacher had predicted, we were of no use to the victims.
We went around handing out bread, accompanied the elderly, and cleaned the area around the evacuation shelters, and ran other small errands, but our food ran out in five days. We didn't bathe, but we were told that it was unsafe to sleep outdoors, so we slept inside the evacuation center. The fire fighters and the self-defense force were astonishingly competent in restoring the infrastructure and removing the rubble, and they efficiently dealt with any issues. Our existence was a joke—we were just a bunch of kids that were pretending to “volunteer.” There were actually some young pepole who'd brought nothing with them or were reluctant to do dirty jobs, but I couldn't really say that there was a big difference between the amount of help we and they were able to give.
What I learned from the experience was that nothing is solved with just people who need help and people who want to help. For things to actually start moving forward, we need people who can mobilize people. I was ignorant of this obvious fact.

Crushed by reality, we left the affected area, and eventually enrolled in university Kyoto. We also eventually lost our passion for the affected areas. I honestly admit and regret the fact that our sense of justice was ultimately nothing more than a facade. We couldn't even hold onto our feelings for Kobe for even a single year.

I'm sure there are many young people out there who want to do something for the affected areas and the victims of this earthquake. But I want you to stop and think. There is not a thing you can do for them there right now. Your existence at the site will only be a hindrance. All you can probably do now is donate money and blood, and that's a great contribution that I urge you to be proud of and to continue.

What I want you to do is to hold onto your passion, your feelings. If you continue to feel what you feel now, there will be opportunities for you to act. You could help out in the temporary shelters, psychological care of the victims, restoring daily life—some issues far more serious than ones directly following the earthquake. NPOs will start moving to deal with these problems, and only then will the victims start to need you, a kind-hearted person who wants to help in any way possible. Maybe it will be an experience that will change your life completely.

I ultimately became a geographic information system specialist, and though my field is different, I am now in a position to be able to contribute to disaster prevention. I think I've become someone slightly more capable of helping others than before. 

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