Thursday, March 17, 2011


Our hearts go out to all those involved in Japan's unimaginable disaster...particularly our friends at PHA Japan.

I met Noriko Murakami, PHA Japan's founder in 2000 at PHA's International Conference in Chicago. As she tells in her story of the organization's formation, that was shortly after they had formed.

It was also shortly before I had an extraordinary visit to Japan.

Ten years and one month ago - in February 2001 - I represented National Voluntary Organizations Acive in Disaster (NVOAD) on a 12 day speaking tour of Japan, concluding in Sendai.

That tour was my lsat piece of consulting work before converting from a part-time exeuctive director at PHA to full-time ED and, later, president.

Over the past few days, as I have watched the devastation on television, I have been thinking a lot about that trip and the wonderful people I met.    While I was working as a consultant ED for PHA, I was also in the same position for NVOAD, an umbrella organization for the major non-profit disaster response organizations in the U.S.  The group was built on the simple idea that the best time for disaster responders to meet and plan is before the next disaster strikes.

Well, that's the background.  The story is a diary I kept during that trip and later posted on the NVOAD website (webmaster was among my duties there).  It's been long down but Kathy Frix at PHA revived it for me.  If you do want to take a look, my experience at the podium in Sendai may be worth a quick read.

Tomohide Atsumi organized NVNAD after the 1995 Kobe earthquake.  He once told me that up until that event, the expectation in Japan had been that government would come in and solve the problem...but the Kobe disaster was too big.  His role and that of others has become to introduce the concept and practice of volunteerism into the culture.  To the extent that they have succeeded, the country will benefit as they move through this yet unfolding tragedy.

Dr. Atsumi, a professor at Osaka University, returned to Japan from his position as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at UCLA the day after the earthquake struck.

On Monday, he sent out a long situation report.  It closed with the following...
At this phase of disaster, and being in the area, it is hard to think of any "academic" issues unless they are truly practical. It is, at least, obvious that we should re-examine our concepts of society, culture, civilization, safety, sciences, and meaning of life. I hope that you input us any/many ideas to think for (future) academic contributions from various areas of the world.
Let me go now. I have to go to the office and respond. Today, I will discuss when/how/whether/where to dispatch our team (including me), develop programs for volunteers now and in long-term, reply to many supportive messages from people in Japan, and talk at two TV programs and one radio program...

Thank you for your attention.
Good luck Tomo.  Good luck Japan.

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