help for japan . mercy corps {guest post}

For the past six years, I have had the privilege to call Joy Portella my friend.  She is one of the smartest women I know, not only in terms of her craft, but with domestic and world affairs.  As the director of communications for Portland-based Mercy Corps, she has seen, first-hand, more devastation and human suffering than most of us ever will, traveling to both China and Haiti following their earthquakes.  But she has also seen how caring individuals can help make situations infinitely better.   I admire her for her courage to travel to places I could never go and to bring clearer light on situations we only see or read about in the news.  For 32 years, Mercy Corps has been helping people turn crises into opportunities.  Driven by local needs, their programs provide communities in the world’s toughest places with the tools and support needed to transform their own lives.   Mercy Corps leadership, innovation and ability to adapt in changing situations, in short, saves lives. This is no more truer than in the aftermath of natural disasters.  They are incredible stewards of the funds donated to their organization, utilizing 88% of their resources to support their mission, earning them high marks from charity watchdogs such as Charity Navigator.   I asked Joy if she would guest post and provide some thoughts about the crisis in Japan.   We all have charities that are close to our hearts when disasters strike, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and mine, Mercy Corps. Whichever one speaks to you, whatever the amount, together we can help those who desperately need our kindness and support now. To the people in Land of the Rising Sun, our prayers are with you.
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Everyday since Friday, I’ve been holding evening conversations with Tomoko Yamashita, my communications counterpart at the Japanese aid organization Peace Winds.  Mercy Corps, the humanitarian aid organization that I work for, is partnering with Peace Winds to respond to last weeks’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Today Tomoko sounded a little weary.  “We won’t be able to send a helicopter with relief supplies today because we don’t have enough fuel.  But we’re sending a van with 600 blankets from another city where we found gasoline.”

For the past two days, Peace Winds has been shuttling two helicopters back and forth to Kesennuma, a city of 70,000 that was destroyed.  The helicopters contain tents, food, blankets and other vital supplies. Kesennuma’s evacuated survivors are sleeping in schools, community centers, even shopping malls that have been converted into shelters.  The Kesennuma Middle School is now a cramped, debris-strewn home for 700 people who have lost everything.

Now the Peace Winds team – soon to be joined by a team of Mercy Corps emergency responders – is grappling with a nationwide shortage of fuel.  But they’re resourceful.  If you can’t fly a helicopter out of Tokyo, you drive a van out of somewhere else.

Many people have asked me why Mercy Corps is responding to this earthquake.  We work in the world’s toughest, poorest places: Afghanistan, Somalia, North Korea and Sudan, just to name a few.  In contrast, Japan is wealthy with a stable, capable government.  It’s also the best prepared country in the world for an earthquake, which probably save thousands – if not millions – of lives.

But last week’s earthquake, followed by the tsunami and now the instability of nuclear reactors, has created a highly unusual situation that overwhelmed Japan.  Such overwhelming incidents are not unprecedented – think of how difficult it was for the US to respond after Hurricane Katrina.  Japan and its people are in dire need of assistance; that’s a need to which we can all respond.

Tomorrow when I talk to Tomoko, I’m hoping she’ll tell me that the van of supplies has reached Kesennuma and that they’ve found a new source of fuel. But even it they haven’t, I know the team will keep forging ahead. The people of Kesennuma don’t have many options.

– Joy Portella, Director of Communications, Mercy Corps


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One Response to help for japan . mercy corps {guest post}

  1. Jules says:

    It is always admirable and noteworthy when organizations and individuals go into regions and situations that most would not dare to even contemplate. In the worst of times, they provide the help without which many more people would be affected.

    Unlike Haiti, Darfur/Sudan, and other ‘developing’ locations, one would think that Japan would have the infrastructure to handle a normally devastating situation. Yet, when the organizations like Mercy Corps put out a call to action — it should speak loads to the people on the fence about contributing. They would not ask if it was not truly needed.

    Thank you and Joy for sharing.

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