Sad news from home, heartfelt messages from friends all over the world

London, England

Monday, March 14, 2011

This post was written by Yuka, a 27-year-old studying at the Institute of Education in London. She is currently volunteering with Save the Children.

A happy Friday morning turned out to be one of the scariest moments since I came to study in the UK. The news of this massive earthquake in north-eastern Japan shocked me to the core.

Being Japanese, I have to say that we are used to having earthquakes. You will experience at least one earthquake if you stay in Japan for half a year. However, this level of earthquake is something that we have never experienced before.

A number of aftershocks seem to be still occurring even three days after the earthquake happened, which continues to frighten people living in the affected areas.

I didn’t know about the earthquake until my colleagues at Save the Children told me on Friday when I came in to work.

My sister lives in the prefecture of Fukushima, the region now threatened by a nuclear fall out and earthquake. I desperately tried for hours, to reach her by mobile but the phone lines were down and I was only able to get a 100 character text message to her by a phone service set up by the Japanese government. My sister had registered my mother as one of her 5 emergency contacts so I received the message that they had found my sister through my mother.

These were very anxious hours for me as I couldn’t reach her. My sister who is 25 years old is just recently married and is due to celebrate her one year anniversary this week. She was due to go back to Tokyo in 10 days times.

And she was ok. Very shaken, but ok.


Yuka's brother-in-law, sister, a friend and Yuka on her sister's wedding day. 

And last night I managed to have my first phone conversation with her. She told me that she felt like she was living in a ship since the ground has continued to shake.

My sister lives on the on the second floor of a house that she shares with the landlady. The staircase was separated from the main part of the house by the earthquake, and her parking spot is now on two different levels. Most of her belongings crashed to the floor.

My sister received the emergency alert on her mobile about 10 seconds before the tsunami so she ran to the window and opened it so she would have a clear path of escape and then she hid under the table but the table was moving so she ran and crouched between the sofa and the table while she hid and listened to the radio broadcasts. She said that it currently is very difficult to get food or water because most of shops were either closed or nothing remained even they were open.

The telephone lines have either been too busy or remain down since the earthquake and young people seem to be communicating through Twitter or Facebook in order to confirm each other’s safety.

However, children have neither mobile phones nor internet access. Considering that the earthquake happened on Friday afternoon, most children must have been in school and away from their parents. They have must have been so scared to have been away from their parents.I t reminds me of the homework we always had when in primary school marked for September 1st.

September 1st is the Disaster Risk Reduction Prevention Day which was established to mark the Great Kanto Earthquake that took place in 1923.

On that day, emergency drills are organised throughout the country. At school, we also learn how to protect ourselves in case of earthquakes and how to evacuate quickly. At the end of the day, as a part of homework, we are told to decide the “meeting point” with our family members in case all communication means are down.

A friend of mine told me that after the earthquake these words of wisdom were crucial. She met up with her family at the meeting point which as a family they decided on a long time ago.

While Japan is a highly efficient country and we have prepared for the BIG one for many years no one would have been able to withstand the force of this quake and tsunami. I am lucky that my family is ok and my best wishes and solidarity go out to those who have lost their loved ones.


Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

Help Us Respond to the Japan Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.

Surveying the Destructive Force of the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Iwoolverton Ian Woolverton, Save the Children Media Manager

Tokyo, Japan

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Landing at Tokyo's international airport this morning after a long flight from Sydney, Australia, I looked up at a television screen to see images of a nuclear reactor with a headline, "Explosion at Fukushima reactor."

Add to that an aftershock or two (there have been 400-500 aftershocks since Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami), and I started to question why I was here.

But as the world's leading independent organization for children, we are in the business of helping children and their families affected by disasters at home and overseas as well as in developed and less developed countries.

By now we've all seen the images of the awesome destructive power of the tsunami that wreaked havoc along the east coast of Japan's most densely populated Honshu island, home to famous cities like Tokyo and for all the wrong reasons, Sendai, the city that was smashed to pieces by the tsunami.

But what's less well reported is the damage caused to other centers of population like Asahi City, where I'm headed now. Here the authorities estimate nearly 19,000 households have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Sitting in the back of a Save the Children vehicle on a beautiful spring Sunday morning we speed toward the city.At this point I could be lulled into a false sense of security. There are no signs that we're headed to a disaster area. I can honestly say I have not seen any earthquake damage to buildings and homes. This is testament to Japan's strict building codes that ensure all buildings are built to withstand even the most severe earthquakes.

But no government, however wealthy, can be expected to prevent, in some areas, 10 metre tsunami waves gobbling up everything from articulated trucks to houses, schools and, tragically, people.

And it is this new reality that I fear will greet us as we draw closer to Asahi City.

So, why have we come here? Why aren't we up north in Sendai? Fact is, there has been so much attention on Sendai, and the Japanese authorities are so good at disaster response that we want to focus our attention on meeting the unmet needs of children and their families in other areas that might get overlooked. I'm not suggesting we will put the needs of children in Sendai to one side. Of course we won't since the needs there are massive, but we want to ensure children up and down the east coast get the help they need as well.

Our ambition in tsunami-affected areas is to open what's known as Child Friendly Spaces, effectively a play space where children can play with other children of a similar age under close supervision from responsible adults. The idea is to relieve the stress on parents and to give them a break from childcare duties as they register for emergency assistance.

But there's another reason to run Child Friendly Spaces, and that's to allow children to return to as normal an environment as possible (given the circumstances).

Our experience in decades of disaster response shows us that children must be returned to a normal routine as quickly as possible to help ward off the risk of long-term psychological problems.

Arriving in Asahi it is clear many children and their families need help.

Along the sea front, homes have been decimated and become caked in mud. I met people sweeping mud from their homes, without much success it has to be said.

The streets nearest the beach are full of bizarre sights like overturned vehicles wedged in houses or leaning on walls. I've seen these scenes before in places like Aceh following the tsunami in Indonesia, but I'm always in awe of how brutal mother nature can be.

The most distressing experience for me was meeting Natsumi (10) and Nao (11) Nakazawa who were afraid of the water and desperate to return to school to be with friends they'd not seen since the earthquake and tsunami.

I also met the Takane family who, along with hundreds of families, had sought shelter in one of 17 classrooms at IIzuka Primary School.

Mom Mariko and her four children Yuto (8), Aika (7), Kanato (1) and newborn Amihi had been living in a small classroom since Friday.'

At first they were afraid to go home, but once they summoned the courage to return they found there was no water supply, leaving them little choice but to return to the school for shelter.

Sadly, I suspect that the Takane's story is one playing out up and down the east coast of Japan's most densely populated island.


Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

Help Us Respond to the Japan Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.

Empowering Women: What’s the Best Method?

Dhheadshot Dave Hartman, Save the Children, Internet Marketing and Communications Specialist

Westport, CT

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yesterday was the 100th International Women’s Day and we asked our loyal social media followers what the best method to empower women is. We recieved a ton of great responses and we wanted to share them with you. Below is a “Storify” summary of the ones we think are most powerful and insightful. 

If you have any ideas of your own we’d love you to share them in the comments section below!

A Brighter Future for Egyptian Children

55 Geof Giacomini, Save the Children, Egypt Country Director

Cairo, Egypt

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Geof reports from Cairo on the impact of unrest on children in Egypt and Libya. Geof is currently leading our efforts to support the needs of children in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution. He also plays a key role in providing relief for refugee children and their families fleeing from unrest in neighboring Libya. 

I returned to Egypt the chaotic day before the fall of Hosni Mubarak. It’s hard to believe that just a few short weeks how calm it is in the streets. I’m able to move about Cairo – as easily as anyone can move about this teeming city of nearly 17 million people. 

Just a few days ago, I visited the heart of the uprising – Tahrir Square. Tahrir means liberation and it is clear the Egyptian people will settle for no less. Protests continue on Fridays, reminding the country’s tenuous leadership of their demands. 

It was in Tahrir square that I met Baraka who was trying to support himself by selling little Egyptian flags for protestors. I asked Baraka what the flag means to him, especially as he witnessed the revolution. I asked, “does it mean anything to you?” He answered “no, I sell them because I make money.” They go for about 20 cents a piece. 

Baraka was tiny, not even four feet tall. He had scabs on his forehead and left cheek – he did not say how he got them. He was filthy, grime under his nails and dirt on his face. I thought to myself, at least he has shoes – which many children do not. 

Baraka looked about nine years old. I shuddered when he told me he was fourteen. About a third of Egyptian children are stunted – severely under developed. 

Under the Mubarak regime, undocumented children were denied basic access to food, school and medical care. Most of these children have been abandoned, neglected or ran-away from abuse. 

Having seen first hand the toll previous policies have taken on a generation of some of the country’s poorest children, I am hopeful the Egyptian people will prioritize education and health programs. 

We all wish for happy, healthy children who grow up to be productive members of this free nation. 

Educating the Forgotten Children of the DRC

Sarah press Sarah Press, Save the Children, Democratic Republic of Congo Education Coordinator

New York, New York

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

 Sarah is attending the launch of the 2011 Global Monitoring Report at Columbia University in New York City today on behalf of Save the Children. This year’s report examines the consequences of conflict on children’s education.

If you want to put names and faces to the millions of forgotten children in the world, you might start in the rolling hills of Kitchanga, north of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) There you will find thousands of children living in poverty exacerbated by violence and a general lack of interest from the international community. You might start with Rafiki, a twelve-year-old child with a bright smile and a nearly unbelievable sense of optimism. 
Rafiki’s father died when he was just four years old. When he was 10, he and his mother fled from their home when one of the many active armed groups in the region tore through their village, burning homes and fields and destroying anything in their path. “I don’t know why they did it,” he told me sadly, “no one knows.” 
When the soldiers came, we saw and ran away. I was too scared. I thought I was going to die. Everyone ran. We came on foot with nothing, only our clothes that we were wearing. We came to stay with my uncle because we didn’t know what else to do,” Rafiki recalls. 
Rafiki’s uncle took them in, and his mother helps around the house, collecting water and wood and helping with the cooking. 
I wanted to go to school right away,” Rafiki said, “I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to continue but I couldn’t. My mother didn’t have any money to pay (the fees) and my uncle couldn’t help. Instead, I helped my mother with her chores. 
“Children who are not in school are treated like vagabonds, like bandits. Children who go to school are respected by the others and by the grownups,” he said. “I felt awful when I wasn’t in school.  I felt like I had no life.”
Last August, Rafiki and his mother heard that Save the Children was helping children who were not in school to enroll.  Rafiki was thrilled. He is now in his last year of primary school – a school in which the teachers have been trained through the support of Save the Children, and in which there are children’s clubs and recreational activities and schoolbooks. Rafiki comes to school every day.  He says that he feels better about himself and about his life, and he hopes that one day he’ll be a doctor.
“I love school!” he said, “I want to have a good life.”
He pointed to the secondary school next door to his primary school. “That’s where I’ll go next year.” 
But he probably won’t. 
Secondary school fees are as high as 5 to 10 times primary school fees, and Rafiki’s mother couldn’t pay those. The district of Kitchanga, while home to more than 20 Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and more than 40,000 displaced people, is not considered enough of an emergency to garner the kind of humanitarian support that would allow a child like Rafiki to continue his schooling. In Kitchanga, 24 rapes were reported during the weeks around Christmas; in another part of the country, that figure was in the hundreds. While 24 rapes would be a crisis in your neighbourhood or mine, in the DRC it pales in comparison to other emergencies. The children of Kitchanga are trapped in a grey area: they live in a context of instability, but not enough instability for the humanitarian community to consider them a priority. 
The funding for Save the Children’s education program in Kitchanga ran out at the end of February 2011, and there is no further funding in sight. Thanks to the support he’s already received Rafiki will make it to the end of primary school.  But what of the children who will come after him? Each child in Kitchanga who enrolls in school, each parent who enrolls his child in school, is making a statement of optimism: against all odds, they are insisting in a belief in the future of Kitchanga and the future of DRC, which most of the world seems to have forsaken.


Help Keep Children in Conflict Zones in School