By Daphne Seah
For many people now, Japan's March 2011 earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster feels distant. Yet, after extensive debris clearing, rebuilding and radiation cleanup in affected areas are just starting, according to news reports.
Throughout these 18 months, Singaporeans have come alongside international volunteers to aid Japan's recovery efforts through CRASH Japan, a non-profit Christian disaster relief organization. Former pastor Paul Teoh, 51, is one of them.
Since May 2011, this English Presbytery Mission Committee member has travelled to Japan six times, making "survey trips" and leading volunteer teams. And Teoh's latest involvement is CRASH's Million Cranes Campaign.
Launched early last month, this global movement joins previous campaigns from America and UK, encouraging people to fold origami cranes and selling them to raise money.
Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore from Tokyo, Teoh thinks this is a very good way for Singaporeans to continue helping. He says, "Besides raising funds, we also send encouragement to the tsunami survivors that Singaporeans have not forgotten about them."
"S$1 for a crane is do-able for the average Singaporean, wouldn't you agree?"
Besides planning to enlist schools and ex-volunteers to "give", Teoh spurs people to "go" and travel. According to CRASH's public relations officer Paul Nethercott, their Tokyo headquarters and bases up north have received 133 Singaporeans, with some returning more than once.
But Teoh says, "Lots more need to be done. Recovery is taking much longer than expected due to the extent of damage."
"Number of volunteers has already started tapering down. Whilst most debris removal is done, we found that the mere presence of Singaporean volunteers brings encouragement to survivors."
Although Japan's government promptly met victims' physical needs by providing temporary housing as well as rebuilding roads and other infrastructure, CRASH reveals that survivors are not receiving help to rebuild houses, leaving relief workers with sufferers grappling with deep loss, loneliness and grief.
Radiation fears also top the list of ongoing problems. With an elusive danger level, rampant anxiety plagues individuals and families.
And CRASH feels this is where volunteer, by just being there to listen to stories of loss, offer a lot through these meaningful "small" acts.
But volunteers don't come exactly free. Relief mobilisation requires "staff, office space, vehicles, supplies, insurance, equipment" and donations help meet these needs.
Nethercott shares how their monthly headquarters and bases' operations costs exceed US$65,000.
He says, "Our three offices up north need about US$8,000 per month to operate. They are crucial for coordination and communication at the local level. Our main Tokyo office needs around US$60,000 per month."
Funds also go to preparing for the next Big Tokyo Quake, predicted to cause deep calamity.
Readiness plans include a Salvation Army course, training hundreds of Japanese pastors and churches on responding to disaster victims effectively. Plus, CRASH has designated someone to be in charge of quake operations - conducting workshops preparing churches to help their communities, blogging and collaborating with other organizations.
Nethercott tells us, "We are building up our volunteer database and other systems to mobilise help quickly and effectively. We want to be a lot more prepared next time!"
Hoping to raise US$1 million, he feels "great" about Million Cranes' progress as he hears more people participating. Almost one month into its launch, they received US$1,000 via efforts in Tokyo and America, including an Iowa concert last weekend.
"Besides some German youth groups, it sounds like initiatives will happen in Singapore soon." he adds.
Organizations or individuals interested to join the campaign can find details in this video: