Update : AJAJ Disaster Relief in Japan

Tsunami Relief Efforts in Japan

Dear IAAP colleagues,

First of all I would like to thank all those colleagues who sent us donation through the IAAP fund.

I would like to update the situation and our activity for earthquake victims in Japan. More than two months have passed since the earthquake disaster. But the matter is still urgent. There are still more than 8,000 missing people (more than 15,000 dead), 100,000 refugees. And the ongoing danger of nuclear plant is not yet settled.

The working committee for earthquake victims has already started its activity. I have been twice to Sendai, the biggest city in Tohoku region, and Ishinomaki, where the Tsunami destroyed harbor city. The most striking thing is, that there is a clear contrast between damaged and saved regions; and whether the Tsunami reached the land directly or not. For example in the central part of Sendai city, there was no trace of the earthquake, at least from the outside (although there are major damages inside the buildings). But in the district near the airport hit by the Tsunami there were hundreds of broken cars, a lot of uprooted trees and destroyed houses.

I have realized that mutual exchanges of experiences in mental health groups are very useful. We organized such a meeting in Sendai for members of the Sandplay association and AJAJ. 12 members came to the meeting. Each talked about personal experience of the earthquake and professional mental healthcare with various victims. There are many impressive stories, but I would like to mention only two things: the problem of being faced with the dead body, and care of firemen and self-defense forces personnel. After people had looked for their lost family members in vain, they began to visit stations where unidentified dead bodies were stored. It was very hard to see one by one all the dead bodies, but still harder to meet the very lost family member as a corpse. Someone should accompany such people, and psychotherapists want to take the role, but it is difficult because of the working territory. In the consultation with self-defense forces personnel, it is striking that those members who were waiting felt more psychological stress than those who were really sent into action.

We will continue to organize such an exchange meeting because it is helpful for psychotherapists and care taking people. We will organize it not only in Sendai, but also in Fukushima and Iwate.

The same exchanges of personal experience are also useful for teachers. We will organize a meeting for teachers to exchange their experiences and difficulties in coping with the earthquake. There are many lectures and courses for mental health and care organized by the government. But I don’t think they are really useful and helpful. Not only by way of supervision and indirect help, but we would like to send some school counselors to help the teachers and children directly. There are needs from some schools. But we have to cope with some organizational matters. The ministry for Education and Science decided their budget for sending school counselors. But those school counselors change every week because they are sent from cities far away.

I noticed how difficult the human psyche is. If necessary goods are lacking, it is terrible. But once there are goods and food sent by volunteers and the government, many problems arise. People begin to have feelings of envy, injustice and so forth. I heard also a lot of cases of mismatch between helping intention and needs. Even when the situation gets better, psychological problems seem to increase.

Kadonowaki school left in ruins. It was reached by the Tsunami up to the second floor. People were on the third floor, which was burned by the gasoline of drifted cars.

In a school terribly hit by the Tsunami a teacher showed us drawings before and after the earthquake. The contrast was striking! Many drawings showed the disaster collapse of the structure. The students we saw look normal, but the pictures show totally different aspects. So an approach by images must be very useful. As teachers of this school have understanding of approaches through images, we would like to send a school counselor there.

As a small group we cannot cover many things, but we would like to try and show how a psychological relief work through images is effective and helpful.

I will update my report again in the near future.

Best wishes,

Toshio Kawai,
Vice President of AJAJ, Chair of the Working Committee for Earthquake Victims