Japan earthquakes: stories of resilience

Takeshi Komino | May 27, 2016

Ms. Nakajo (left) and Yuzuki with YMCA Yokohama volunteer Otsuka at the YMCA center in Mashiki-town. Photo: Takeshi Komino / CWS

Ms. Nakajo (left) and Yuzuki with YMCA Yokohama volunteer Otsuka at the YMCA center in Mashiki-town. Photo: Takeshi Komino / CWS

It has been more than a month since the Kumamoto earthquake in Japan. Hundreds of aftershocks continued for weeks. Homes and businesses were destroyed, and thousands of people were displaced. Because the quakes happened right at the beginning of a new school year, tens of thousands of children had their school year disrupted.

A month later, most of the schools have restarted. The number of evacuees, once more than 180,000, is closer to 12,000. However, recovering from a disaster is more than just reconstruction. The earthquakes caused immense damage to the area, including to people’s psychological well-being.

In the YMCA center in Mashiki-town, a center that the CWS response to the earthquakes is supporting, children and families are have consistently showed incredible resilience as they have waited and prepared for the future. Here are some of their stories from the last month.

Ms. Madoka Nakajo is pregnant and was at the center with her three-year-old daughter Yuzuki shortly after the quakes. While life at the center is challenging for a pregnant mother, young Yuzuki encourages the adults. She stays smiling, doesn’t demand anything special and does comical gestures that put smiles on everyone’s faces. It doesn’t mean that Yuzuki isn’t feeling the shock – she is not sleeping well at night. Despite everything the family has been through losing their house, in Madoka’s words, “Since Yuzuki is with us, we will hang in there.”

As the center transformed into a mini-village, evacuees supported each other and helped with various tasks at the center. Around 50 children and youth showed interest to assist despite the fact that they, and their families, have been severely affected by the earthquake. They assist in distributing relief items, preparing hygiene and health message posters, making birthday cards and taking on other tasks as designated. Seeing these children and youth taking up these tasks seems to encourage many adults at the center. After all, they are the future leaders of the community.

Children at the center are not the only ones volunteering. Hundreds of volunteers have stepped in to help, both in the center and throughout Kumamoto. When the collapsed roof of the gymnasium in Mashiki-town was fixed, 140 volunteers helped install a new roof covering to ease the fear of falling pieces and to improve air circulation. Other volunteers are tending to those living in the center and helping to rebuild the community. As one volunteer put it, his motivation is “wanting to see these people smile once again.”

Rebuilding in Kumamoto will be a long process. It has been, and will continue to be, challenging physically and psychologically for residents. But if everything I have seen over the last few weeks is any indicator, the people of Kumamoto will rise to meet these challenges.

Takeshi Komino is the General Secretary of CWS Japan.