“It was my mother’s home,” 62-year-old Nobuko Homma explains sadly. “So you see, I must return to my home in Namie one day.”
Red Cross hospital nurse Yuki Yatomi listens attentively, nodding encouragement from time to time.
Mrs. Homma is one of the ‘continuing’ victims of Japan’s 2011 Great Eastern Earthquake and Tsunami in which more than 18,000 persons were killed and hundreds of thousands of persons were uprooted.
.Her talk with nurse Yatomi is one of many programmes started by the Japanese Red Cross to help victims, in this case persons who were evacuated from Namie to Iwaki city in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster which was triggered by the tsumani.
In September, 2012, Namie officials asked for help and Red Cross nurses now make door-to-door visits to check on the evacuees’ health and offer moral and emotional support.
Wish to return to hometown
Nobuko is typical of the evacuees. She lives alone in Iwaki city in a one-room tented apartment and kitchen. Her son and daughter work in Tokyo, but she is determined to eventually return to Namie.
Just before the disaster, she explained to the visiting Red Cross nurse, her doctor detected a stomach cancer and she underwent surgery. “In other words, God gave me an extra time of my life,” she said. “So I need to survive and go back to my home in Namie by any means.”
Keeping the community bond
A major problem for any evacuee is the sense of isolation caused by living alone in a rented apartment in an unfamiliar town among unfamiliar neighbors. Those circumstances can lead to depression.
In Nobuko’s case one of the things she craves most is re-establishing links with all of her old friends and neighbors. “When I came to Iwaki city, I bumped into some old friends and neighbors and I got their new contact information,” she said. “But there are others whom I cannot reach yet. It would be nice if the local authority can issue a phone or contact directory of Namie residents so that we can keep our community bond.”
Finding needs of the survivors
Ms. Minako Morita, a professor of Japanese Red Cross College of Nursing, says project poses many new challenges for the Red Cross staff themselves such as coordinating with all stake holders, creating a questionnaire on often sensitive issues and locating the physical whereabouts of individual evacuees.
But the results have been encouraging. “By conducting individual interviews we can better understand their needs and this helps us more effectively develop our own support programme which can offer sustainable assistance,” she said.
This project will continue until September when local health workers will take over.