It has been close to three months since the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck northeast Japan on 11 Mar. Many disaster areas still remain in ruins simply because the scale of destruction was too startling to deal with. The Tzu Chi Foundation has since distributed hot meals, blankets, and daily necessities to victims in the affected areas.
Having finally sorted out the survivors’ name list with help from local authorities, the Foundation is looking to hand out emergency cash to 9000 families in Kamaishi and Rikuzentakata cities in Iwate Prefecture.
The cash distribution in Kamaishi will begin on 9 Jun while the distribution in Rikuzentakata will be carried out on 10 Jun. Both will run for three days.
Rikuzentakata, a city of 23,000 residents, was reported to have been almost “wiped off the map” with buildings lower than three storey high completely submerged. More than 1000 people were confirmed dead and over 1300 missing. In Kamaishi, about 1250 residents were killed or missing.
The team of 52 Tzu Chi volunteers set out from Taiwan on 7 Jun aboard a China Airlines flight from Taipei to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, where they joined local volunteers in preparing for the upcoming large scale distribution. The Taiwanese volunteers have brought along 12,000 sets of custom-designed relief pack, each containing a letter from Master Cheng Yen, relief cash, a brochure telling how Tzu Chi volunteers in 39 countries have gathered love and compassion through praying and fundraising for Japan, as well as a USB flash drive loaded with videos and Tzu Chi prayer songs translated into Japanese.
Together with the relief packs, the Taiwanese volunteers – most of them female – were also escorting a batch of relief goods to Tokyo. When they were told that the load of packed goods and instant noodles was 200 kilograms overweight, the volunteers took out their personal items immediately and divided the overload goods among themselves as carry-on. “We reduced our personal items by 10 kilos respectively and everyone just carried one more bag, and the problem is solved,” said one of the volunteers.
Speaking on the impending large-scale relief operation, team leader Yang Ming-da said, “It has been well arranged on the Japanese side. Our veteran volunteer Chen Jin-fa flew to Japan on 26 May to take care of everything and now we have come to take part in the mission.”
Also in the team is Hsieh Ching-kui, director of the Foundation’s Religious Culture and Humanitarian Aid Department. The director said that they had surveyed the needs of the people and found that most of the affected areas already have adequate emergency supplies. “What they need most now is some cash to purchase additional necessities,” he added.
Accompanying the delegation is a team of 10 from the Tzu Chi Culture and Communication Foundation to record and understand the situation in Japan. Reporter Huang Yong-ling noted, “We hope to find out what are the problems and difficulties facing the people’s daily living now, including those of education, health and other issues.”
The responsibilities of the Tzu Chi volunteers might seem heavy like their baggage, but filled with conviction to serve, they are marching forward one step at a time together with the disaster survivors.