Global news networks flood us with images of catastrophe that can make us feel helpless. Fortunately, the same network gives us steps we can take to relieve suffering. The horrendous impact on Japan of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has generated some notable local responses that you can join in ways small and large.
SeattleJapanRelief is an ideal place to start. It’s not an established agency but “a conduit for the generosity of the city” created specifically in response to the emergency in Japan, said Benjamin Erickson, cultural and educational program director of the Hyogo Business & Cultural Center. “It’s a partnership of many Japanese-American and Japan-related community organizations wanting to stand together in providing disaster relief.” Erickson coordinated the tech team that coded and posted the Seattle Japan Relief website. “We burned through last weekend to do it,” he said.
The team's urgency was compounded by lessons from the 1995 Kobe earthquake. “One lesson was not to send food, clothing, and such" until after "a structure to accept and use goods" had been established, he said. Right now in vast areas of Japan, offices and even major officials are gone. One city council hall was moved two kilometers from its original location, Erickson said, and in some coastal cities "the mayors have been washed out to sea.”
In the face of catastrophic damage to infrastructure, the only groups capable of giving meaningful immediate assistance are military organizations and large NGOs, according to Erickson. Seattle Japan Relief, which does not itself collect donations, posts three of those and urges the public to give generously to any or all (their three are Peace Winds America, the American Red Cross, and YMCA of Greater Seattle).
Other local efforts and events supporting the relief effort:
- Tonight (Friday, March 18) 4-6:30 p.m.: Seattle Buddhist Temple Memorial will hold a First Seventh Day Memorial Service for Earthquake and Tsunami Victims. From 4-6 the public will be invited to ring the large temple bell (bonsho) in memory of those lost in the disaster. A 30-minute memorial service will follow at 6 p.m. Seattle Buddhist Temple, 1427 So. Main.
- Saturday (March 19) 11 a.m.–1 p.m.: Seattle Japan Relief will host a gathering near the Kobe Bell at Seattle Center, where everyone is invited to join with Seattle’s Japanese and Japanese-Americans in remembrance of and solidarity with friends and family in Japan. Community leaders' remarks will be followed by prayers for people who have perished or are missing, and by opportunities for those attending to ring the bell, a gift from Seattle’s sister city of Kobe, Japan. Donations will be accepted at the event. Updates and further details are here. Seattle Center at the Kobe Bell, 305 Harrison St.
- Anytime: the Mobile Giving Foundation, as local as your cell phone, lets you send text-message donations that are billed directly to your account. The foundation sends 100 per cent of every gift to the recipient charity; your particular carrier may add its own standard fees:
Though taking steps to help can moderate our most intense feelings of helplessness, Erickson, who used to teach in Japan, added a further observation: “Get active now, but pace yourself. Japan is going to need our help for many years.”