|Survivor Care in Japan|
A Strategic Self Care & Suicide Prevention Conference
by Helen Kwak, CRASH Japan Care Coordinator
As CRASH Japan Care Coordinator, a growing awareness of the critical need for supporting disaster relief staff and survivors of 3.11 inspired Helen to conceptualize and advance a three day Self Care and Suicide Prevention Conference.
"I started volunteering with CRASH Japan in May of 2011, and was immediately impressed with the enthusiasm and dedication of our staff who work diligently in support of the volunteers who go to Tohoku. I continue to be moved by their willingness to sacrifice time, energy and often health in order to bring hope to survivors. Watching them carry such heavy responsibility caused me to look into the causes of burn-out, the need for self-care, and the best ways to support people who are in supporting roles themselves. I spent as much time as I could with them in the field, seeing the work that they do, finding ways to support them as they reach out to care for survivors and the many volunteers we are mobilizing. The following two stories illustrate both the great opportunities and challenges that our staff face on a daily basis.
"A few months ago I joined a local pastor and staff from CRASH Japan's Nasu base to help with a Mobile Café at a temporary housing unit in Fukushima-ken. As we were sitting with the people who had gathered, a woman started talking to me. She kept saying over and over how lucky she was just to be alive, how 'we all were lucky... that just being alive was more important than anything.' I just listened to her. I didn't add anything, but just kept on listening, nodding, and saying 'yes', and 'mhmmm'. I didn't know why she kept saying this, but thought I wanted to just hear her out.
"After ten or fifteen minutes, she blurted out that her oldest son had died suddenly. She started telling me about the last conversation she had with him and how her son's death had affected her relationship with her husband. She talked about how her grandchildren and daughter-in-law were doing. She cried and cried. This pain that she was carrying began long before the Tohoku disaster. She had been carrying it for 20 years when the disaster occurred.
"I realized that my coming from far away gave her a chance to talk about it again... something she can't do with her neighbors anymore. And just listening, not trying to participate in a conversation, but just letting her talk, allowed her to grieve this painful area of her life. When we were leaving that day she gave me a big hug and told me I felt like a daughter to her. Those particular words also allowed me to cry again about my own mother's death over 20 years ago. I had my own flood of tears in the car on the way home. We really connected that day, H-san and I.
"This is Survivor Care. Survivors need care. Volunteers need care. Listening is one critical key to meeting both of these needs.
"In March of this year I was in Fukushima again. The pastor of a local church and I walked around the temporary housing area to meet people. We were invited in for tea at two different places, and had such a warm reception. At Y-san's house -- after hearing about how hard it is to not have work to do, how she was raised to relax after doing her daily work, how life without work feels meaningless, and how hard it is to wake up thinking "what can I do today to use up my time" -- Y-san said straight out that she was considering suicide. She didn't seem depressed. She explained that it seemed like a nice way to take care of things. She didn't want to be a burden on anyone, and she didn't want to get weak and frail. The pastor handled the conversation, but I knew that had he not been there, I would have needed to be able to handle this.
"Statistics are interpreted in different ways by different people, but they all show that even if there isn't a steep rise right after a disaster (when people are working so hard just to stay alive), there is usually a rise later. I realized that volunteers in Tohoku will likely face this kind of conversation more and more so I came back to Tokyo and signed up for a Suicide Prevention course. In addition, I also researched the concept of Suicide Prevention training through CRASH Japan. As of this June, CRASH Japan will be implementing these initiatives through a series of Survivor Care Conferences.
"A Survivor Care Conference will be conducted in Sendai on June 27-29, 2012. This conference will serve as a 'retreat' for Disaster Relief staff and volunteers; help train participants in the basics of suicide prevention; and through sharing our challenges and successes, offer opportunity to learn how to care for each other.
"Please pray that God will use this strategic event to educate and encourage those involved."
To financially support the CRASH Japan Survivor Care Conference, please click here.
Conference will be primarily in Japanese without translation. If you have questions, please contact us.
Dates: 2012/6/27-29 (Wed-Fri)
Place: Ichinobou Sakunami Onsen (Miyagi prefecture, Sendai-shi)