International Medical Corps staff finds hope amidst the devastation in a Japanese fishing village
Every job has ups and downs, but today topped all other “up” days.
Japan’s Prefectural Office of Disaster Assistance asked International Medical Corps to assess an area called Ogatsu-machi. A small fishing and oyster town of roughly 4,700 people, Ogatsu was extremely difficult to access after the tsunami, as most of the roads and bridges leading to it were washed away. To get there, our team came by road through the mountains to the west, a route that just recently became possible thanks to recent road repair.
When we arrived, we found that the village had virtually nothing.
Roughly 75 percent of the town had been completely destroyed by the tsunami; 1,300 people are living in 16 evacuation sites, some of which house as many as 600 people. Electricity is available only at sites that have generators, and cell phone service is still out. On top of this, 50 percent of Ogotsu’s population is older than 60, creating a need for consistent medical care and management of chronic illnesses.
Despite the town’s isolation, they were receiving medical services, thanks to the work of local humanitarian organizations and volunteer doctor groups – and had food, clothing and blankets. What they needed, they said, was a washing machine, plates and new chopsticks – they had been using the same ones for going on 10 days which was unsanitary.
The next day, we woke up determined to get what they needed. We bought two washing machines, two water tanks, laundry detergent, hangers, plates and chopsticks and hit the road back to Ogotsu, where we were directed to one of the 16 evacuation centers.
When we got there, people poured out to see us. A group of ladies soon surrounded me and asked me all kinds of questions. I told them I was from American and came to help. Then one of the ladies said she had lost her daughter to the tsunami. Another woman said she had lost her house and her cat.
Despite their tragic losses, the women were all smiles and giggles. One of the women reminded me that laughter was the best medicine of all, not just for them, but for everyone involved, including me.
I wanted to share this story because I want those who supported our emergency relief efforts in Japan to know that, because of their support, we were not only able to provide the people of Ogatsu with what they needed, but were also able to give them something priceless – hope. They know now that the world cares and is trying to help.
And there is no better gift than that.
John Ferguson is the logistics and safety officer, Japan, for International Medical Corps.