Mercy Corps: Helping the Japan Tsunami’s Littlest Survivors

From Joy Portella, a Mercy Corps employee formerly stationed in Japan:

MARCH 26 – The youngest survivors of disasters are often the most resilient, but also the most fragile. While earthquakes and tsunamis rob children of the same things that most adults hold dear — homes, families, friends — kids lack adult coping mechanisms. The emotional toll can be devastating.

Today in Kesennuma, a city of about 70,000 people in northeast Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, I witnessed both the resiliency and fragility of children. In the city’s main evacuation center — a converted sports complex — a play room has been set aside for small children. Today was the first day it’s been staffed by certified childcare providers who are creating activities to make life a little more normal and pleasant under the current, difficult circumstances.

That’s where I met Hidayuki Suzuki, age 40, his wife Miho, age 24, and their three-year-old daughter Rin. The Suzuki family had been living in the evacuation center for two weeks since their apartment was severely damaged by flooding. Hidayuki tells me that Rin is too young to understand the earthquake and the family has been together the whole time, so she’s doesn’t seem troubled.

Dad was more worried about contagious illnesses like colds and the flu, which despite best efforts to practice good hygiene like hand washing and the omnipresence of medical masks, are running rampant in the overcrowded living conditions. Rin, he explains, became very ill when they first arrived at the center. Despite her current cheerful appearance, she’s still on the mend.

In the main auditorium, I met a family with a different story. Hiromi Ito, age 33, had brought her two young children Soma and Kokowa to visit their grandparents, who are living in the center. Hiromi and her children are also evacuees but they have been taken in by her husband’s family. Hiromi’s mother, Masako, had not seen her grandchildren since the quake.

The story continues on the Mercy Corps Blog.

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