Tohoku Earthquake Relief Mission Report (April 2) by Giles Murray
We met up with a team of four midwives led by Yuko Fukushima, a licensed midwife and associate professor at Iwate Prefectural University at 7.30 A.M. at "Tengu no Sato" on the outskirts of Morioka. The plan was for JOICFP and the midwives to jointly reach out to pregnant women and mothers of young babies in this fishing community. We wanted to provide immediate practical support in the shape of supplies and get a clearer sense of their specific needs in order to support them in the medium and long term. It was a beautiful drive to the coast over snow-covered mountains, but Yamada Town itself was a scene of unimaginable destruction. The only buildings left standing were concrete shells blackened by the fires which had broken out after the tsunami.
Our first stop was the town hall. An official provided Yoshikatsu Kanno, JOICFP mission leader, with a map showing all the local evacuation centers and advised us where the greatest concentrations of women and children were. One room in the town hall was given over to "hyoryubutsu," personal effects, often photograph albums, which had been washed away by the water, and were displayed on a huge blue tarpaulin for people to reclaim.
The first place on the list was the Sakura Kindergarten. On our way there we passed Yamada Town railway station. It was completely wrecked.
At the Sakura Kindergarten we spoke to Keiko Sakodate. She told us that there were currently 99 people at the center (the number fluctuated daily) the youngest of whom was a nine month old baby. Many of the people there went out in the daytime to try and retrieve what they could from their destroyed homes, so we asked Ms. Sakodate to select the items she knew the women in the center needed and give them to them when they got back that afternoon.
The next evacuation center we went to was the Orikasa Kindergarten. It stood at the bottom of a steep slope at the far end of Yamada Town. Everything between it and the sea had been destroyed. One could see how the line between life and death was literally a matter of a few meters. Kyoko Kawabata, who was in charge, invited us in and even offered us coffee. She had spent the night after the tsunami in the kindergarten with 33 children, no one knowing if their parents were alive or dead, as the fire came closer and closer.
Kosuke Nishimura, a boy who was quietly doing his sums at the end of the table while we were there, had lost his uncle in the tsunami, while his one-and-a-half-year-old brother had been brought back to life by CPA after his heart had stopped.
According to Ms. Kawabata, people were starting to return to work and focusing on recovery and rebuilding. She said she knew a local pregnant woman who was due to give birth at the end of April, but that she had moved to Miyako, a less badly damaged town further up the coast, to stay with relatives. As the day went on, we found that many pregnant women or women with very young children had done the same thing: moved away, often inland where they felt safer, to stay with relatives.
At the Yamada Town Funabashi Disaster Prevention Center we met Etsuko Otsuki, a volunteer who was running the place. She was concerned that there was too much of a focus on the plight of people in the evacuation centers, while people who were still living in home, but having to make do without adequate food, heat or financial resources, tended to be overlooked. We provided her with supplies to distribute to people in her neighborhood, as she knew, as only a resident could, who needed what but was too self-reliant to ask anyone for a handout.
On Ms. Otsuki's advice we visited a family in which the mother was in the late stages of pregnancy. This kind of direct outreach is something midwives are uniquely able to provide.
"In Miyagi on March 30 we distributed supplies to women from a single distribution hub, but here we have adopted a mixed model," said Yoshikatsu Kanno, summing up the day. "In Iwate we are using the Morioka Women's Center as a large-scale hub, but we're also working with the local midwives to deliver goods to small groups or individuals with pinpoint accuracy. Today's fact-finding mission taught us that many pregnant women or women with young children on the Iwate coast have moved inland. The midwives can now act on that knowledge to provide them with expert support, and JOICFP in turn will do everything it can to support them.
Giles Murray, Writer
（information from JOICFP, all photos copyright©JOICFP）