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Israel Brings Hope to Japanese Survivors

June 20, 2011
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In Haiti in January 2010, Israel was the first on the scene with a fully equipped field hospital, saving many lives. Bridges for Peace was honored to be one of the sponsors for this life-saving endeavor. We have a good relationship with the medical corps, so when it was cleared for them to take off for Japan, they again asked for our assistance. We immediately made a major contribution to purchase supplies for the people of Japan (like toiletries, fleece jackets, etc.) and for medical equipment. However, in this case, we were able to offer more. Since we have an office in Japan, our team there volunteered to work with the Israeli medical team as translators and with general assistance.

In the stricken area of Japan, most people died very quickly, not from the earthquake, but from the tsunami. I spoke with General Nachman Ash, Israel’s surgeon general, and like Atsumi Takada, our Japanese national director, he said there are not enough words to describe the total devastation on the east coast of Japan. He described a hospital where the tsunami wave reached five stories high. Those unable to reach higher ground had very little chance of survival. In the aftermath, with hospitals and clinics destroyed, no electricity, no supplies, the Japanese medical personnel who survived were unable to provide good care to the survivors, many of whom had literally lost everything.

The Israeli team was able to bring much needed equipment: X-ray machines, blood testing machines, generators to provide electricity, as well as supplies to enable them to minister to the Japanese people living in makeshift shelters. Their presence was an encouragement to the Japanese medical staff who survived the tsunami. Sati Oda, a former Bridges for Peace volunteer in Israel who is now living in her native Japan, was one of the volunteer interpreters. “I got to talk personally with such a doctor and a nurse, because I worked together with them and also interpreted for them. And they both told me that they were deeply encouraged to be able to work with someone with equipment because initially after the disaster, they were walking around the shelters checking people for their health, but all they could say [to them] was that ‘you have a cold, you have this symptom, but you have to bear with us because we don’t have any medication.’ All they had was a stethoscope, maybe.”   

In Sati’s opinion, some of the best “medicine” the Israeli team was able to bring was encouragement. “I think, overall, patients who came, or patients that we went to visit, were very happy for the generosity and kindness. From my perspective, the best medication that they were able to receive was the encouragement and generosity of the Israeli doctors and nurses.”

Volunteers said they saw patients’ faces that went from worry and concerns to smiles and happiness after being treated at the Israeli clinic. In discussing why that was the case, Sati noted that the Israelis had more resources, such as electricity, and also more time to give to listening to the patients. “They went the extra mile, I think, to understand what the problems are and try to bring about the treatment and understanding for the patient.”

The Israeli medical team was able to treat 220 patients during their time in Japan, and even after they returned to Israel, their impact did not end. The majority of the medical equipment that they brought to Japan, which includes X-ray machinery and lab equipment, stayed in Japan so local doctors could treat their people.

The mayor of the town of Kurihara, Mr. Isamu Sato, spoke at the team’s concluding ceremony. “The clinic you left behind will be a cornerstone in the restoration of our city which suffered a major disaster. I have no doubt that your important contribution in restoring the area and the generous treatment you provided to our people will be a vital donation and a milestone in the relations between Israel and Japan.”

Ultimately, however, what the Israelis brought with them went far beyond the physical medical aid. Sati contrasted some of the survivors’ hardships with the peace seen at the Israeli clinic. She said she saw kids playing and laughing near the clinic, as the Israelis had brought some toys with them as well. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is such a different place, different spirit, the atmosphere is completely different. There seems to be peace and joy in the place where there was sadness and darkness and nothingness. They lost everything.’ So I felt hope, I felt joy, I felt peace, somehow, in the Israeli clinic. It was a different atmosphere.”

Photos by flickr/IDF

Source: By Rebecca J. Brimmer with contributions by Joshua Spurlock

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