Help disabled and elderly disaster survivors

by Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan)
AAR JAPAN staff search for a welfare facility
AAR JAPAN staff search for a welfare facility

No Shortcut to Finding Those Who Need Help

On Saturday, March 26, AAR JAPAN’s Emergency Relief Team visited three locations in Miyagi prefecture for delivery of food and fuel.  This day the Team surveyed 12 additional welfare facilities for the aged and people with disabilities.
Relief Team Faces Tough Realities
The elderly and people with disabilities, around whom AAR JAPAN’s relief operations are conducted, are often considered the most vulnerable to natural disasters, and are often the last ones to receive assistance.  The Team literally calls up each welfare facility in the affected area one by one to assess the level of damage and to grasp the immediate needs before setting out to actual delivery.  Sometimes the AAR staff have to directly visit those facilities where no one is answering the phone or no e-mail response is coming from.
On March 26, the Team headed to one of such welfare facilities for the aged, Sasae-Ai (“Supporting Each Other”) Day-Care Center in a town of Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture.
Roads in the vicinity of Sasae-Ai were closed off to regular vehicles because of heavy traffic of big construction equipments mobilized to remove piling debris.  The Team had to consult a road map to find a detour, only to find a signboard left at the facility’s address.  Patrolling policemen had no clue about what happened to Sasae-Ai.

Go IGARASHI and Toshiyuki KOGA of AAR JAPAN searches for a welfare facility. No trace of building was found.

The Team was later able to talk to the director of the facility, who told that his house was lost in the Tsunami, and three out of 23 employees were found dead.  Even he did not know whereabouts of the elderly who had been in the building at the outbreak of the Quake.
The Team’s path gets often blocked by cruel realities like this, but the entire staff are determined to continue searching for people who are still waiting for the arrival of helping hands.

List of Destinations on March 26
Yamamoto Town, Miyagi Prefecture
-Sakamoto Junior High School (Refuge center, food & water delivered)
-Seiwa-en (Welfare facility for people with disabilities, gasoline/kerosene/diesel fuel delivered)
Higashi-Matsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture
-No.2 Kyosei-en (Welfare facility for people with disabilities, gasoline/kerosene/diesel fuel delivered) 

AAR JAPAN staff unload relief items from Tokyo
AAR JAPAN staff unloads relief items from Tokyo
AAR JAPAN staff unloads relief items from Tokyo


AAR JAPAN member delivering locally produced rice
AAR JAPAN member delivering locally produced rice

Local Farm Donates Rice through AAR JAPAN

On Thursday, March 24, the AAR JAPAN’s Emergency Relief Team visited Higashi-Matsushima City in Miyagi Prefecture and a town of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture, stopping at six locations for delivery of relief items.
“Survivors First”
At “Hamanasu no Sato (Land of Rugosa Rose)”, a nursing home for the aged in Higashi-Matsushima, approximately 100 survivors are taking refuge, which include the inmates of other welfare facilities.  The entire staff, none of whom has gone home since the outbreak of the disaster, is taking care of the group.  Here the AAR JAPAN’s Relief Team distributed rice, water, towels, clothes, etc.  Rice had been donated from “Farmin’” an organic rice farm in Tome City in Miyagi, an area well known for its rice production.  Their clients had expressed to the Farm that their portion of rice be sent to the survivors, and the Farm had entrusted AAR JAPAN with the delivery of 300kg of their rice.  In order to save precious water, all of the donated rice had been specially processed so that no pre-cooking washing, which is a common practice in Japan, is necessary.

Staff member of "Hamanasu no Sato"receives locally produced rice from Sopana HAGIWARA (left), Board Member of AAR JAPAN.

The survivors at “Hamanasu no Sato” have not had an opportunity to take a bath since the Quake.  “Electricity got back on recently, which is a great relief.  But we still do not have running water.  We cannot take a shower; we even have difficulty brushing our teeth.  Some of the people here are starting to show the early symptoms of pneumonia.  The situation is unnerving because we cannot take them to hospital”, the Team was told.

IKEA JAPAN, a global furniture company, donated bags of potato chips through Japan Mothers Society, an NGO for working mothers.  "This will make both inmates and staff members very happy" said an employee at "Hamanasu no Sato" with a smile.

List of Destinations on March 24
Higashi-Matsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture
-No.2 Kyosei-en (Welfare facility for people with disabilities, 100 survivors)
-No.2 Kyosei-en Annex (Welfare facility for people with disabilities, 20 survivors)
-Izumi no Sato (Welfare facility for the aged, 32 survivors)
-Hamanasu no Sato (Welfare facility for the aged, 100 survivors)
Otsuchi Town, Iwate Prefecture
-Kozuchi Community (Survivors staying at home, 50 persons)
-Board of Education, Otsuchi Town (through Emergency Headquarters, Otsuchi Town: a focal point of delivery of relief items to over 40 refuge centers and its 5,000 survivors)

Sopana HAGIWARA carries towels donated from Bonheur Group, an amusement company, into "Hamanasu no Sato".  The floor in front of the main entrance had a big crack.

A teddy bear among debris in Higashi-Matsushima
Bags of potato chips arrive at "Hamanasu no Sato"
Bags of potato chips arrive at "Hamanasu no Sato"
Donations od towels arrive at "Hamanasu no Sato"
Donations od towels arrive at "Hamanasu no Sato"
A teddy bear among debris in Higashi-Matsushima
A teddy bear among debris in Higashi-Matsushima


Survivors at Asahigaoka Community Center
Survivors at Asahigaoka Community Center

Unequal Distribution of Assistance Becomes Visible

On Wednesday, March 23, the AAR JAPAN’s Emergency Relief Team continued its operation in central Miyagi, covering 8 places in Sendai City, and 2 more in a town of Minami-Sanriku, delivering items which included food, clothes, diapers, toilet paper, kerosene and fuel oil.
Some People Get More, Some Less
Asahigaoka Community Center, one of the facilities visited on March 23, is a shelter for approximately 40 people.  Some of them barely survived the Tsunami by holding onto a piece of plank; some were trapped in their own houses when the Tsunami washed them away.  The average age of the survivors is 80 years old.
Survivors at Asahigaoka Community Center survived the horrifying onslaught of Tsunami (left, Ben KATO, Board Member of AAR JAPAN).
When the Team handed a package of sweet-bean cake, a staff member of the Center smilingly said it would make everybody happy.  He also told the Team that the elderly were experiencing difficulty using a makeshift toilet set up outside, especially at night because there were no lights available yet.
At Utazu Junior High School in Minami-Sanriku, where 600 survivors are taking refuge, the Team provided food including rice, instant noodles, canned foods, etc., and some other items such as sanitary items for ladies, underwear, clothes, baby bottles, etc.
People at the school said they did not receive any emergency relief for five days after the Quake, and the supply has not been nearly sufficient.
Unprecedented Tsunami literally swept away the entire town of Minami-Sanriku, where the survivors at Asahigaoka Community Center used to live.
The reality in the wide-spread disaster-hit area is that not all the regions nor the refugee centers are getting the same level of assistance.  One of the important missions of the AAR JAPAN’s operation is to alleviate the inequality of relief distribution as much as possible by spotting the survivors who have scarcely received assistance.
Someone dedicated a bouquet of flowers to the devastated hometown (Ishinomaki City).
Minami-Sanriku Town after the Tsunami
Minami-Sanriku Town after the Tsunami
A bouquet of flowers left to the devastated city
A bouquet of flowers left to the devastated city


AAR JAPAN's Emergency Relief Team in Sendai City

AAR JAPAN Reaches Out to The Helpless

Relief Items Delivered at Six More Locations
On March 22, AAR JAPAN’s Emergency Relief Team visited six locations and facilities in three cities in Miyagi Prefecture, namely Sendai, Ishinomaki and Higashi-Matsushima.  Rice, oranges and canned foods were delivered along with underwear, sanitary items for ladies, etc.  The Team also had a meeting with various organizations to discuss what can be done from now to support people with disabilities affected by the disaster.
Rice, oranges and milk were distributed to Izumi-no-Sato, a welfare facility for the elderly people in Higashi-Matsushima City (left, Sopana HAGIWARA of AAR JAPAN)

The list of the beneficiaries on March 22 includes:
Sendai City
-Care Plan Center SLL (Welfare organization for the aged, 60 inmates)
Higashi-Matsushima City
-Izumi-no-Sato (Welfare organization for the aged)
-No.2 Kyosei-en Annex (Welfare facility for people with disabilities)
Ishinomaki City
-Negishi Townhall (Refuge center, 120 survivors)
-Kiwa community (Citizens staying at home, 300 survivors)
-Gymnasium “Big Bang” (Refuge center, 600 survivors)

Responding to Direct Emergency Calls
Care Plan Center SLL in Sendai is a welfare organization assisting the elderly and people with disabilities who have chosen to live by themselves in a local community.  After the Quake, they have helped out such people as the elderly, people with disabilities, families with infants, etc., for whom moving to a nearby refuge site was not a possible option.  The Center was at a loss without public support, and co-operations from individuals were not enough to keep their activity going.  Someone picked up a phone and called directly the Headquarters of AAR JAPAN in Tokyo to appeal for our intervention.
AAR JAPAN's Relief Team listens to explanation from a staff member of Care Plan Center SLL in Sendai City.  The Center assists approximately 60 survivors including the aged and people with disabilities who cannot move to a refuge place (from left, Sopana HAGIWARA, Shuichi ISHIBASHI and Yoshihiko SHIBATA of AAR JAPAN).

The AAR JAPAN Emergency Relief Team was immediately instructed to bring food items to the Center, including rice, canned foods and some seasoning.
AAR JAPAN normally communicates with the Prefectural Emergency Headquarters, a section responsible for welfare services in a municipal office, or local Council for Social Welfare (CSW), to coordinate its relief operations.  However, we sometimes do receive SOS signals directly from survivors themselves, or their family and friends.
These people are often isolated, and filled with despair as their stock of food gets smaller each day.  Despite having lost everything just like other people, there are those who remain out of the coverage of public support and have absolutely nowhere to turn to.
Reacting to these emergency calls, AAR JAPAN’s Relief Team is trying as much as possible to meet the person directly on the spot to confirm the difficulty and urgency of the situation, before actually handing out the relief items.
AAR JAPAN alone cannot save everybody, but we are determined to seek and reach out to people like the aged or people with disabilities, who are often slow to come into the scope of the disaster relief, and are easily overlooked by big organizations.
Relief items arriving in Higashi-Matsushima City
Relief items arriving in Higashi-Matsushima City


All helped moving the items into the facility
All helped moving the items into the facility

AAR JAPAN’s Relief Cheers Up the Elderly

Welfare Facility without Water Gets What They Need
AAR JAPAN’s Emergency Relief Team continued its delivery operation on Sunday, March 20, visiting two small welfare facilities for elderly people in a town of Okawara, and the municipal office in Iwanuma City, Miyagi.
Relief items for this day included diapers for adults and infants, clothes, futon mattress, etc., in addition to water, milk, milk powder, and sweet-bean cake (yokan).  The Iwanuma Municipal Office is to deliver our items to the evacuees in its vicinity, and one of the welfare facilities ,“Kusunoki (camphor tree)”, is planning to redistribute the goods to approximately 500 survivors living in the neighborhood.
Staff at welfare facility "Kusunoki" showing donated sweet-bean cake. A team of three from Sunmap Co.,Ltd., including Mr. Matsuoka, President (front right) came all the way from Kyushu to help the delivery (left, Sopana Hagiwara, Board Member of AAR JAPAN).

At Kusunoki, all of 30 inmates were fortunately unhurt by the quake, but the electricity resumed running only three days ago, and there was only one propane gas cylinder left.  They did not know what to do with gas after this cylinder empties out.  Their biggest problem was water, which was not running yet.  They were extremely happy to receive a supply of water from the AAR Team.  Sweet-bean cake also made them smile.  “I never thought we could have this here at times like this”, a worker of Kusunoki told the Team.
Helping the Japanese Who Helped Me Out of My Homeland
I am a Japanese citizen now, but I was born in Cambodia.  Helping the survivors of the Big East Japan Earthquake is for me giving back the favors I received as a refugee when I first came to this country.  Their anguishes remind me of my childhood memories of having to put up with a lack of food in war-torn Cambodia.  It is my sincere hope that AAR JAPAN’s operations will be of some encouragement for the survivors.
All at Kusunoki helped moving the items into the facility (center, Sopana Hagiwara)
In many parts of the disaster-hit area, there are still a number of shortages of supplies.  AAR JAPAN will continue to convey the warm support extended from our supporters to the survivors.
It needs to be mentioned here with our heartfelt gratitude that Sunmap Co.,Ltd., based in Fukuoka, and several other enterprises in Kyushu helped AAR JAPAN with procurement and transportation of the items delivered, and Toraya Co.,Ltd., of Tokyo kindly donated 20,000 pieces of sweet-bean cake.
At welfare facility "Kusunoki"
At welfare facility "Kusunoki"



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Organization Information

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan)

Location: Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo - Japan
Website: http:/​/​​english/​
Project Leader:
Yuko Ito
Program Coordinator
Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo Japan

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