One of the most common fears globally is of public speaking. On Tuesday, a group of young people from Fukushima, Sendai and surrounding areas in Japan visited Geneva and addressed a group of humanitarian workers at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), not only conquering a common fear, but doing so in a second language.
Of course, these teenagers had already surmounted the challenges brought on by the triple disasters of a tsunami and an earthquake, followed by a nuclear power plant incident in their own communities over three years earlier in March 2011. Recounting a memory of seeing the local self defence forces extracting the body of a boy from the debris and returning him to his mother, one young man reflected, “when I first saw that woman, I felt so sad that lives were taken so easily. People around me looked hopeless. My hometown lost its cheer and changed to a dull town.” The young woman to his left talked about seeing temporary houses and schools erected shortly after the disaster and of the progress that is still underway in enabling people to return to their homes and communities.
As each of the participants in the room knew, being witness to a disaster can create the inspiration to be a part of the solution. “Through this experience, I had a career [awakening]. My dream is to become a fireman. I'd like to help many people who are in trouble to survive from damages,” stated a second young man. Building on this, the young woman whose statement followed told of her mission to be a storyteller and ambassador, noting “I believe by sharing information and passing on our experience about the tsunami all over the world, we will be able to resist when future disasters happen.” She has spoken to other high level organizations like UNICEF and UNESCO and feels that, while she was fortunate to live in a strong country like Japan where emergency management authorities could deliver food and supplies in less than a week, the world must make progress in places where shortages and logistics prevent people from getting the help they need.
The young people, whose trip was arranged by the Japanese Red Cross, made their journey to learn about how organizations like the IFRC provide support to communities preparing for and responding to disasters. Staff from disaster management, logistics, humanitarian diplomacy, communication, and youth and volunteering teams briefed the visitors on how, within the Red Cross Red Crescent, all disaster responses start with volunteers and staff at the local level, like the Japanese Red Cross workers.
The local Red Cross or Red Crescent is then supported in bringing its activities to scale to meet community needs through a network of 189 member societies around the world, specialised Emergency Relief Units, global logistics hubs, coordination with governments and other partners, working with media to share information about the disaster with global audiences, and using tools like social media to listen to the affected community and respond to concerns. Through the Global Logistics Hub, supplies are pre-positioned around the world, and the Red Cross Red Crescent invests time and expertise in training individuals and teams to be ready to respond. Geri Lau, Head of the Youth and Volunteering Development department, emphasized that the IFRC and its members are dependent on volunteers, many of whom worldwide are young people, to serve their communities in disasters and to lead the organization to prepare and to embrace innovation.
Simultaneous to the students’ visit to Geneva, IFRC Secretary General As Sy was visiting Fukushima, after speaking at a Red Cross Red Crescent Movement meeting on radiological and nuclear preparedness. He participated in a field trip to Namie town in Fukushima prefecture where residents are only allowed into the town during the day and must return to temporary homes or shelters each evening. Laying flowers at a memorial dedicated to people who lost their lives in the triple disaster, Mr Sy expressed solidarity with the community. The nuclear reference meeting and Mr Sy’s visit to Fukushima are part of the Red Cross Red Crescent’s preparation for the March 2015 Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. The organization is focused on strengthening its global network, learning from communities that have borne the impact of disasters, and working with those communities to build resilience and preparedness.
Concluding the gracious presentation of thanks, a member of the visiting group said, “I live in Sendai, where revival is happening, and we are doing well.” She added, “Tohoku is an area of good food and rich nature. If you have a chance to come to Japan, please visit Tohoku.” This team of young ambassadors reflects great hope for the future and strength in overcoming adversity.