Friday March 11th passed in something of a blur. I woke up, heard about the largest earthquake ever to hit Japan, and started speed dialing my family and friends. Earthquakes happen frequently in Japan, so every couple of years I end up calling, “Just to make sure.” But this time, I’d gotten an email in the middle of my night, immediately after the earthquake struck in Japan mid-afternoon, from a friend saying, “This might be it. If anything happens to me, please look out for my daughter.” But all circuits were busy. OK, try again later. From the quick snippets of news I saw, neither my family nor friends were anywhere near the epicenter. “Later” eventually got to be too late for me to be hassling people who may have been through a big scare and may have just gotten to sleep. So wait until the end of the day here, when it would be morning in Japan. Distract myself with work.
But working at GlobalGiving requires us to be on top of disasters, and much of the day we were scrambling like crazy to figure out what the scale of the damage was, where our project partners in Japan were, and how we could make sure to channel the outpouring of generosity that was already hitting our servers starting first thing in the morning. So I became glued to livestreamed TV from Japan. I couldn’t get away from it. Knowing all I do about how difficult it is for laypeople to help directly, it was difficult to resist the feeling that I needed to get on a plane back home. Maybe I could get through to my friends and family that way.
It’s inevitable when disasters happen that commentators point out that philanthropists might want to wait until after the immediate relief phase is over. But as I kept up my stream of emails into Japan, checking on existing organizations we work with, and looking for the right new organizations, I’ve been struck by how everyone I have been communicating with is so heartened to hear that someone wants to help, that someone out there cares enough from thousands of miles away to reach out.
GlobalGiving is working hard to identify the best local partners on the ground to receive these funds. Already, our immediate disaster response partners are having an impact. Save the Children is working to deliver psychosocial support aimed at children, establishing child-friendly spaces in affected communities, providing support to parents, teachers, and other key caregivers, and working alongside local communities to train volunteers in sounseling techniques to help children after this disaster. International Medical Corps has already put together relief teams and supplies and have been in contact with partners in Japan in the first day of the disaster. In the coming days we’ll continue to identify additional Japanese organizations providing relief following the earthquake and tsunami and will keep you updated by email about how the funds are used and the impact your donation is making.
I was glued to the livestream most of Sunday too. It was Monday morning in Japan and TV reporters were positioned at train stations to cover how people were getting back to work. But many stations unexpectedly were closed and people ended up waiting for taxis instead. Then, the litany of train lines that were not running came on–for close to 5 minutes. That spoke volumes. It only made me realize that I had an unspoken hope that life would start returning to normal–and it wasn’t going to. At least for now. The city of Tokyo is at a virtual standstill. Friends in the suburbs are wandering around looking for ATMs with cash and stores with food. Rolling blackouts are finally being implemented. Everyone–including people who weren’t directly affected–is going around in a daze.
And yes, I got through to everybody Friday evening. Everyone I know is safe. But to have thousands of people willing to help means more than I can say.