Responding to disaster - and culture - in Japan

As I finished my visit to Japan this weekend, I took to heart the message from our staff - that the current disaster response must be led in a way that respects Japanese culture.

People need to know that they are being treated equally and fairly as humanitarian goods arrive and activities get under way. This fosters solidarity among those who are impacted and is a key to the renowned resilience of the Japanese people.

You will read elsewhere on this website the details of World Vision’s response to the scale 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in north-east Japan, two weeks ago.

In Japan, as in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand, I am pleased that World Vision staff were already on the ground and began work immediately, despite the fact that many had their own private family tragedies or concern for loved ones.

With 97 per cent of our staff hired locally in our programmes around the world, an understanding of culture and people’s real needs becomes second nature as we respond.

Unusually, two recent large-scale disasters, in Japan and in New Zealand, have struck offices in which humanitarian organisations primarily raise funds to help others. As a result, staff around the world who face crises more often were able to participate in contributing experience, knowledge and funds to give back to those who previously helped them. As one example, our staff in India all voluntarily donated a day’s wages to the response in Japan.

Such open-heartedness reminds us that, rich or poor, we are all more alike than we are different. We may all have to face suffering and grieving, and all share a capacity to reach out in loving kindness to help others.

I commend World Vision Japan’s National Director, Nobuhiko Katayama, and his staff, who showed me on my visit how thoroughly they had prepared for, and have acted on, the multiple disasters in their country. May they continue to persevere in this, as they have in so many other good works in their 24 year history.

In return, I conveyed to staff that thousands of their colleagues and other World Vision supporters around the world are praying daily for them and the Japanese people. I am confident that, in overcoming this unprecedented disaster, the Japanese will be strengthened in unity, and in their resolve to be a force for good in the world.