Preparing Hot Meals Brings Smiles to Disaster Victims –Mobile Counseling Center, Miyagi– By Takeda Tsutomu

 Feeling distress at the East Japan Great Earthquake, many people are now asking themselves, “What can I do to help the victims?”
 And now, many volunteer workers are visiting the affected areas and working hard to help remove the rubble and clean and repair damaged houses.
 Offers of help and solidarity with the victims are growing all over Japan. This issue presents the activities of the Mobile Counseling Center for the victims.

 The Mobile Counseling Center’s activities started right after the Golden Week holidays in May. The activities are carried out by the Miyagi Disaster Countermeasures Forum and the “Joint Support Center for the East Japan Great Earthquake Victims,” made up of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), Japan Family Farmers Movement (Nominren), Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions (Min-Iren) and other organizations.
 Following the first center activity at Ishinomaki City on May 14, the second round was held at Rokugo Junior High School in Wakabayashi Ward of Sendai City on May 21. Inside the gymnasium of the school, 170 people are still taking shelter.

950 Visitors in 3 Hours
 The day before the center’s activity, 3,500 fliers were distributed door-to-door, and a sound car ran in the surrounding area of the school. On the day, about 950 people visited the site. From Min-Iren, 85 affiliate members joined as staff.
 Soon after the start time of 11 a.m., large number of people gathered around the aid supplies piled up high, including diapers, clothes and foods, and they ran away quickly. Many among them were families with babies in carriages.
 In the cookery, the Central Kitchen group of Miyagi Prefectural Min-Iren prepared 500 beef bowls, and Shonai Fresh From the Farm Center of Nominren from Yamagata Prefecture prepared 600 miso soups with pork and vegetables.
 Eating hot food, victims took on a soft expression. One boy student living in the gymnasium said in sport, “Perfect cooking. It’s tastier than Yoshinoya’s!” Another man said, “Usually we are fed with packed lunch, but some people have difficulty eating it, as it is cold.” Most of the time, cold rice balls or bread was the only meal for the victims, so freshly cooked hot food was welcomed and in great demand.

Reserved Victims
 On the day of the counseling, different booths were set up for consultation on labor, law, agriculture and medial/health problems. Min-Iren was in charge of the medical/health booth, where about 30 people visited during the three hours.
 Mr. Mori Keisuke is a nurse from Donko Hospital in Nara Prefecture. While measuring blood pressure, he listened attentively to the victims’ words. “Most of the victims claim they cannot sleep well. In the affected areas, wreckage after the quake is still visible and not settled, and so are the minds of the victims”, Mr. Mori said. “I would be pleased if they could take some load off their mind by spitting out their anxious feelings.”
 “Many people claim that they have become forgetful or feel muzzy,” said Ms. Kinoshita Kazue, the head nurse of Kawasaki Medical Cooperative Hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture. “It seems they have gotten stressed out, which is taking a toll on their mental and physical health.”
 While taking part in the community rounds giving advance notice of the event, Ms. Kinoshita realized that there were many victims living in partially destroyed houses, who were reserved and hesitant to join the event, saying, “We are better off than those people who have lost their homes completely.” “Considerate to other victims, they even said, ‘I feel bad about lining up for aid supplies or hot food.’ If you go into the community and visit door-to-door, you will realize that massive amount of aid supplies and larger scale of support activities are really necessary.”

Grasping Victims’ Demand by Questionnaire Survey
 Miyagi Min-Iren drew up a “Demand and Request Questionnaire” to grasp the demands of the people in the communities. The surveys on the health situation and requests regarding jobs and living were responded by the visitors to the Mobile Counseling Center and also by the people living in the vicinity through door-to-door visits by Min-Iren staff.
 Serious concerns were expressed in the survey, stating, “Though my house was destroyed, I cannot afford to repair it,” or “Farming machinery and implement were soaked in seawater and turned useless.”
 Dr. Komagata Takashi, a dentist at Furukawa Democratic Hospital offered consultation on medial problems. Clouding his face he said, “There was a patient who could not go to the hospital in fear of medical cost. He did not know that now the victims could see a doctor without a out-of-pocket payment.”
 The reality is that such a minimum level of information has not reached the victims. The process to reach out to each of the victims and help them reconstruct their lives has only just started.