As Japan prepares to mark the first anniversary of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast of the country on Mar. 11 last year, the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation from Taiwan yesterday presented a review of its efforts to help the country recover from the disasters.
Foundation members started offering aid to people in affected areas soon after the earthquake, distributing food and small amounts of money to survivors.
The foundation said it mobilized a total of 4,283 relief personnel and donated about NT$2.15 billion (US$71.6 million) over the year, providing assistance to about 100,000 survivors.
The foundation said the love of members nationwide has given new strength to survivors. In addition, the selfless dedication of Taiwanese motivated many Japanese survivors to dedicate themselves to post-quake relief work.
Disaster relief team leader Chen Chin-fa (陳金發), who has no family or relatives in Japan, was among the first members of the foundation to arrive in Tokyo, 24 hours after the disaster.
“When overseas compatriots in Japan were rushing to leave the country in the face of an impending nuclear crisis, Tzu Chi volunteers made their way to high-risk areas armed with radiation detection equipment,” he said.
The group’s efforts to provide assistance encountered numerous difficulties, particularly when the Japanese government initially turned down an offer to help, Chen said.
“However, our experience in providing international aid ensured we eventually earned the trust of the Japanese government, and managed to get through to often resistant Japanese victims,” he said.
Chen has spent 181 days over the last year in Japan, providing assistance and relief work and is scheduled to head to Osaka today to continue his “unfinished mission.”
“People often ask me why I was not afraid of dying, “ Chen said. “I tell them it was not because I wasn’t afraid of death, rather it was that I identified so much with the pain of the people in the disaster areas.”
Chen’s devotion has also moved Japanese officials, with the government inquiring whether he might be interested in applying for long-term residency.
In December last year, 55-year-old Sadako Nozaki, one of the many Japanese victims who received money from the Tzu Chi -Foundation, finally found the body of her husband who disappeared during the disaster.
Nozaki said that although her life was torn apart by the disaster, she still has a positive attitude toward life.
“Although my living space is small, in the event of another earthquake, I will be able to carry all my furniture in my hands,” she said.
Since the funeral of her husband Nozaki has worked in a ramen store. She no longer eats abalone or shark’s fin, because of her fear of the ocean since the tsunami.
The foundation had also helped elementary-school students in Kamaishi City by providing school lunches and subsidies for school buses.
“The timely assistance of the Tzu Chi foundation was like receiving charcoal in winter, providing students with sufficient nutrition and energy to help them study,” the principal of Kinoene Elementary School said.
Translated by Stacy Hsu, Staff Writer