Thursday, March 17, 2011
We have finally commenced our operation in Sendai, after a ten-hour overnight trek, some rapid assessments, and agreement with one of the evacuation centers to set up our first Child Friendly Space in Nanagou.
When we were there yesterday, the children were tired, anxious and stressed. There weren’t many smiles, with some of them quietly following their parents around, others sitting in the stairwells, and a few young boys running up and down the corridors of what last week was their primary school.
Letters and messages are posted on the walls, some to tell people that the author was safe, others, sadly, asking if people had seen relatives or friends. With our Child Friendly Space established, the first group of children came in to start activities like drawing and colouring with our enthusiastic and committed Japanese staff.
It didn’t take long for the first smiles to break out, smiles that hadn’t been there the day before when we came to assess the situation. At the same time I had sent a team some 40miles north of Sendai to the town of Ishinomaki, where they found a scene of utter devastation. Ian Woolverton, my close colleague and friend who went with the team called me and said, “We’ve got to get up here. The needs of the children are massive.”
I asked him to get as much information as he could, but he went one step further, and got some good intel for me about the possibility of setting up some Child Friendly Spaces. I hope to get up there tomorrow or the next day to get it set up. We face multiple challenges here. We are faced with fuel, food and water shortages. So it is tremendously difficult to establish supply lines, especially since staff are fatigued and stressed.
This emergency is proving much more complex than I thought when I left home, giving my wife and two sleeping children a kiss goodbye, and heading to the airport only six hours after the quake struck. Add to this the anxiety amongst the population and our staff about the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor, and this is proving to be one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever undertaken.
Despite these frustrations, the long days, and the yearning to be home with my own children there is one thing I can say about today. We put smiles on the faces of 33 children. That’s what I love about this job.