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Welcome to Michael's blog. Michael Andrew, (aka Michael The Maven) is a freelance producer, photography instructor, tech innovator, and when needed, disaster aid specialist. Disclaimer: Michael is a participant in Bhphoto & Amazon affiliate programs that provides an advertising commission if you purchase through links on this website.


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04.05.11         michael's insights  

Back to Work


Demand for aid in Japan is proving to be very dynamic. Last week the hot items wanted were Hygiene kits which contained items like soap, shampoo, razors, etc and we couldn't get anyone to take blankets.

Today, almost everyone who wanted help asked for blankets and portable water tanks.

We are also seeing more and more people leaving shelters and trying to return to what is left of their homes.

Many of these homes have some damage, or are in horrible condition- such as; the bottom level's doors and windows are broken (due to the tsunami wave), and/or filled with mud, and the top floor in reasonable shape. We've seen a lot of people trying to live on the top floor while resurrecting the bottom floor, as well as their yards.

This move from shelters, has more people back at home, yet many of them are doing reasonably well because they have access to cars and fuel now.

The people who seem to be really struggling are the ones still without transportation or money.

Tomio and I have identified a few clues that can tell us a lot about their condition as we drive past these homes:

1- If there is smoke, the owner is almost always there trying to clear their yards.

2- If laundry is hanging, they are living there. This is a huge clue if it is in front of a damaged home.

3-Wearing of Dirty or damaged clothing typically mean limited access to washing supplies or clothing. Dirty clothes are nearly a lock that the person needs help, especially after nearly a month after the initial disaster.

4- Body language- we are seeing a lot of people sitting in the remains of their homes, not working or cleaning up, rather with heads hanging in a clear state of despair. We found a family like this today and were happy to offer them needed supplies.

Some towns like Minamisanriku, you can have a distribution Center full of supplies, yet have several people within 1-2 miles not receiving what they need.

We are also noticing that there are clearly defined boundaries where some cities are really well taken care of (we don't find any in need- like Kesinuma) and others consistently have pockets of people in need (Like Minamisanriku).

Tomio and I identified 6 locations today in need, just under 700 people, but 2 of those really stuck out:

The first group was a pocket of homes that had no leader or community center, they were just a bunch of families in one part of town. They said they received some aid from the main distribution center, but it was usually in the evening after everyone else had already received "the good stuff".

When we asked what they needed, they said "anything you can offer".

It took some convincing, but we were able to talk them into accepting a huge load of supplies, of which they could have "first dibs", meaning they could keep anything they wanted, on the condition they would distribute whatever they didn't want to their neighbors. Our plan here is to just overload them with a ridiculous amount of aid and turn them into a very small distribution point for this area.

For example, they initially asked for "a few pairs" of underwear for their children. If we give them say 60 they just don't need that many. Combine this with Japanese culture of reciprocation and service, we are confident they will come through with their promise.

Makato made the delivery later in the evening and said they were both "shocked and overjoyed" that we came through with our promise. These are exactly the type of people we want to continue to find and help.

The second group was the family in the rubble of their home. They were clearly in despair and had "given up" as they said. We initially just wanted information about the area, and while there were only 11 people in this family, I realized something:

There is a temptation to believe that helping many, is somehow more important than helping few.

I no longer believe this.

While it makes logical sense to offer aid to those in larger numbers first, everyone with a high degree of need is equally important, regardless of the number of other people with them.

It is easy to show up to a shelter or distribution point, drop off a load of aid and go on our merry way. There are problems with this:

1- Those that have, now have more.

2- That aid may sit there for weeks (or in the case of Haiti, months) because of a bottleneck.

It is much harder and less efficient to seek out the few that need help. However, if you can find them, they appreciate it more.

I continue to find myself thinking about Bible stories where Jesus spent significant time with one person, teaching or helping them individually. To me this is solid proof that focusing on very small groups of people is a worthy investment, even knowing there is no possible way to serve everyone at this rate.

We asked the family what they needed. They explained they were being taken care of by a local shelter (we had even some delivered aid to this same shelter) but they weren't getting what they needed.

Long story short, we put together a great order list for them, food, snacks, clothing, underwear, socks, blankets, boots, hygiene kits, tarps- everything they could possibly need.

Nathan made the delivery a few hours later. As he described, they were "very, very happy".

Samaritan's Purse also got some new supplies in this weekend, including a few dozen brand new shiny bicycles- an incredible asset for those without transportation.

Nathan gave this family one of these new bicycles. :) !! Wish I would have been there to see it!!

Many of us noticed how different it feels without Nate- we miss him already, especially me- as it seems more and more of the group conversations are in Japanese. I do have one phrase that I can use in nearly any situation: "Arya bakka da".

Ready for another great day tomorrow.



One of the families trying to make it on their own.
Family in the rubble: A few hours after this picture was taken, they received a delivery including a brand new bike!
This is a good example of a 50-50 house, still standing, but 1st floor has damage, second floor is ok.

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