Every job has ups and downs, but today topped all other “up” days. Japan’s Prefectural Office of Disaster Assistance asked International Medical Corps to assess an area called Ogatsu-machi. A small fishing and oyster town of roughly 4,700 people, Ogatsu was extremely difficult to access after the tsunami, as most of the roads and bridges leading to it were washed away. To get there, our team came by road through the mountains to the west, a route that just recently became possible thanks to recent road repair.When we arrived, we found that the village had virtually nothing. Roughly 75 percent of the town had been completely destroyed by the tsunami; 1,300 people are living in 16 evacuation sites, some of which house as many as 600 people. Electricity is available only at sites that have generators, and cell phone service is still out. On top of this, 50 percent of Ogotsu’s population is older than 60, creating a need for consistent medical care and management of chronic illnesses. Despite the town’s isolation, they were receiving medical services, thanks to the work of local humanitarian organizations and volunteer doctor groups - and had food, clothing, and, blankets. What they needed, they said, was a washing machine, plates, and new chopsticks (they had been using the same ones for going on 10 days which was unsanitary).The next day, we woke up determined to get what they needed. We bought two washing machines, two water tanks, laundry detergent, hangers, plates, and chopsticks and hit the road back to Ogotsu, where we were directed to one of the 16 evacuation centers.When we got there, people poured out to see us. A group of ladies soon surrounded me and asked me all kinds of questions. I told them I was from American and came to help. Then one of the ladies said she had lost her daughter to the tsunami. Another woman said she had lost her house and her cat. Despite their tragic losses, the women were all smiles and giggles. One of the women reminded me that laughter was the best medicine of all, not just for them, but for everyone involved, including me.I wanted to share this story because I want those who supported our emergency relief efforts in Japan to know that, because of their support, we were not only able to provide the people of Ogatsu with what they needed, but were also able to give them something priceless - hope. They know now that the world cares and is trying to help. And there is no better gift than that.
Two weeks after the massive earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Japan, our emergency response team has reached the hardest-hit coastal areas that have yet to receive humanitarian assistance. The total number of deaths is now feared to be greater than 18,000 with approximately 380,000 currently housed in temporary shelters. Our team found that supplies of food and water are now generally improving in the evacuation centers, but some specific food items and medications are still needed. In response, we have delivered packaged baby foods and medications including nasal sprays, antihistamines and eye drops. In addition, we’re helping improve on the ground communication between evacuation and coordination centers by distributing laptops, satellite phones, and walkie-talkies. Survivors, many of whom have lost loved ones and homes, are in need of mental health support. According to team member Dr. Mutsuo Ikuhara, "we saw first-hand how extensive the material and human damage of the tsunami and earthquake was. Displaced people lost everything and require much emotional support. We are deeply moved by the strength and dignity of the people and their terrible suffering." Our team is coordinating with the Japanese government to fill critical gaps, provide support, deliver supplies, and if needed, deploy four medical teams on standby. Thank you so much for your generous donation. We promise to keep you updated on our emergency response in Japan.
We bumped along the road up the hill to Petionville to visit International Medical Corps’ clinic in the J/P tent camp, where about 50,000 Haitians now live since the earthquake destroyed their homes. Their clinic is in one of the largest of such camps in Haiti, and specializes in primary care so they see a lot of cases of skin rashes, coughs, and stomach problems. Another specialized hospital is also in the camp, where they refer more serious medical cases, like cholera.
The temporary shelter that IMC built is divided into a few smaller rooms. On our left, over a dozen patients sat waiting for their check-up. Children smiled and ran up and down the room while their parents waited to be seen by one of the two Haitian doctors working in the clinic. Other medical staff took down the details of the patients waiting to be seen.
We sat down and spoke to Manuchecka Dajeantal, a pregnant woman who was in the IMC clinic for the first time. She came with her husband, who was there to see a doctor about a rash on his neck. She lives near the clinic, and the free care it provides means she can see a doctor about the unusual swelling she’s experiencing in her legs. She says that if the clinic was not there she wouldn’t see a doctor at all.
The doctors at the IMC clinic also keep an eye out for psychological problems that their patients may be facing. Because of the stigma associated with mental health issues, many people don’t seek care for problems like depression or PTSD, which many earthquake survivors are facing. This is one of the few clinics specially equipped to deal with these issues, and mental health care is integrated into the primary care that the doctors are already providing.
After speaking with the doctors, we walked through the tent camp behind the IMC clinic where we met Leonie Joseph, a woman living in the camp with her husband and two children. During the earthquake her house collapsed with everything in it. Luckily her family, which included a three-year-old and a newborn baby, survived. She is now looking for work and hoping to find a way out of the camp and into a home again. She says shelter is her number one need.
Soon it started to rain, and everyone ran back under their tents. We ran to our car and got in as the raindrops got larger. Our car slipped and slid into the mud as we attempted to leave, eventually getting stuck in several inches of mud. Over the next hour and a half the community came together to help us move the car and get to where we needed to go.
Thank you for supporting International Medical Corps’ efforts in Haiti!