How can I volunteer in Japan?
March 11, 2011 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Japan has suffered an unprecedented disaster. I have no job, no money, no insurance, no college degree. Is there any way I can volunteer to go and help rebuild, in any way? Some organization that will send me?
posted by ifthe21stcentury to Travel & Transportation around Japan (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that I'm a citizen of the United States. I've taken a few elementary Japanese courses in college, but I am not at a conversational level. I am 22 years old.
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 6:32 AM on March 11, 2011

There was this same question during the Haiti disaster. The short answer is: No.

If there is anything that Japan has, it is an able-bodied work force that actually speaks the language. Bluntly speaking, you would only get in the way. You don't have the social or cultural resources that you would need to be useful. You don't have the language or the training to actually help. You would need to be babysat the entire time and would ultimately take resources away from the needy.

Donate money and volunteer your time locally -- there are plenty of people in your vicinity that need the help that you would actually be able to provide.
posted by Think_Long at 6:38 AM on March 11, 2011 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Here's the answer about Haiti.
posted by Jahaza at 6:39 AM on March 11, 2011

This question again?

Seriously, people, if you feel a need to wade into every disaster situation donate money to the Red Cross. But let aid workers do the thing that they're trained to do.

And, for what it's worth, the notion that Japan needs much in the way of help ignores the fact that its trillion-dollar economy is either the second- or third-largest in the world (depending on how you measure GDP).

So to assume that your help is needed or even warranted is, well, presumptuous.
posted by dfriedman at 6:49 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding dfriedman. It should also be noted that, of all the places in the world that are prepared for earthquakes, it is Japan, being as it is on the Ring of Fire and having historically endured more destructive quakes, like the 1923 earthquake, which killed more than 100,000 people.
posted by chengjih at 6:56 AM on March 11, 2011

Best answer: And, for what it's worth, the notion that Japan needs much in the way of help ignores the fact that its trillion-dollar economy is either the second- or third-largest in the world (depending on how you measure GDP).

I'm pretty sure that they have already said that they will be accepting help from other countries.

Just like in the Haiti questions (of which my memory suggests there was more than one), the key is to help now by giving to a reputable organization that you are sure will do good work, and then a year or two later put your money where your mouth is and go over and help a small community organization after all the sexy TV coverage has ended but people are still struggling.

The week after the Haiti earthquake, everyone was saying "I want to help" but there was no role for anyone who wasn't competent and highly trained. Today, any of us could do good work there, because the attention of the world has moved on but the need is still great, and things are now rebuilt to the point that motivated generalists (like the asker of this question) have the structure to go the hugely important work of helping the rebuilding.

The sad thing is, once the attention of the world has moved on, pretty much none of the people who were ready to buy a plane ticket the day after the disaster are still interested in going.

So, if you are serious about this, start making plans and connections to go over in a year or so, and work with a small, local organization that isn't going to be getting huge support from other sources. Use the time between now and then to become a bit more linguistically and culturally competent, donate some cash to show you are serious, and go do some good work.
posted by Forktine at 6:57 AM on March 11, 2011 [12 favorites]

Are there any aid organizations in your area that do international emergency services? They may be in need of volunteers for random tasks that they may not have the staff to do.

I don't think that you are being presumptuous in wanting to help. Even first-world countries can be hit with disasters and require assistance.
posted by amicamentis at 6:58 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

It was funny to go back and reread the Haiti question -- at least we are consistent in our advice, whether or not people find it useful.
posted by Forktine at 7:00 AM on March 11, 2011

Best answer: If you want to feel like you're Doing Something, how about getting friends and family to sponsor you for something at home - a run, an abseil, a 24-hour silence, whatever - for one of the organisations that can really help in Japan? They'll get more donations that way than you'd be able to give them individually, and you wouldn't have to feel like you were sitting at home doing nothing while people needed help elsewhere.
posted by Catseye at 7:06 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Taking a long term perspective as these types of disasters will unfortunately always be a reality, if you are looking for a career you could always take steps towards being a trained rescue worker. I would think becoming a fire fighter would be an excellent place to start.
posted by cecic at 8:03 AM on March 11, 2011

1. Yes, donate to appropriate relief agencies (Red Cross, Doctors w/o Borders, etc.)

2. Chiming in with cecic, consider becoming a First Responder in your own area. Where I'm at, many cities have classes that take a few days, usually held at firehouses and similar locations.

You end up learning stuff from turning off gas lines, triage, organizing needs and resources, setting up search teams (and how to mark houses as searched), and documenting everything so when serious help arrives, you've not only saved a lot of lives through better first action, you've also made it easier for them by having the information they need, so they don't have to spend that time trying to figure out what to do.

This doesn't sound very exciting, doesn't help the people in Japan... except for the fact, that, there's odds one day, whereever you are, there might be a disaster. And handling it better when it comes to you, means the money the rest of the world is spending to help you is put to better use - say, rehabilitating a bunch of folks with minor injuries rather than paying for funerals.
posted by yeloson at 8:34 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Use this impulse to train for disaster response in your own community. Example: a few months back we had a house blow up due to a faulty gas line. One person died, two were injured and people for blocks around were evacuated from their home in cold weather.

It's a natural response to want to give whatever you can. Restaurants brought coffee and doughnuts. Someone set up a blood drive and a benefit show for the victims. Someone else opened their home to host people who were displaced. There are always little things that people don't remember.

This goes for larger disasters, too. Engineers who aren't great with people skills can find comfort in the logic of structural calculations to help figure out what went wrong with buildings and how they can prevent it in the future. (I've been working on this stuff today, too, and spoke with the author of this neat book, who volunteered with the Red Cross at the time of the aforementioned house explosion.)

Think about what you know you can best give and do something with it. NOW.
posted by Madamina at 9:20 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I suppose I should also say that most of my work experience has been as a counselor for developmentally disabled adults.

I like the idea of training to be a first responder.

Madamina, was that the San Bruno explosion? I was a little bit north when that happened. I had this same impulse then, but of course there wasn't any way for me to be helpful in that case.

It was suggested by Forktine that my experience providing support to the disabled might be helpful in the future, considering the likely number of injured as a consequence of the disaster.

Until then, I can brush up on the language and look into first responder training. Thank you dearly for your advice, MeFi.
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 9:56 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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