Sanae finds hope and horror on return to her homeland

First published in News

SANAE Fujita says the cities of her homeland are finally beginning to emerge from the scarred landscape left behind by the tsunami.

For all that, she also found the disaster’s legacy was still very much present in the lives of families left homeless and thousands of children orphaned in its wake.

Because of them, Sanae believes we should never forget what happened on that terrible March day. Sanae, an associate and human rights lecturer at the University of Essex, was visiting her family in Osaka when the earthquake struck the coast of Japan.

She was 600 miles away, but still felt the ground shake.

She watched, horrified, as TV reports revealed the magnitude of the biggest natural disaster to hit Japan in a century.

She recalls: “I was watching it on a TV monitor in the back of a cab.

“I couldn’t believe it. I knew, even then, I wanted to do something to help.”

Last Christmas, she returned to join fellow Mormons helping out in the areas affected by the disaster and to record their recovery.

Sanae, of Greenstead Road, Colchester, adds: “We sent 120 people on four coaches and I flew out to join them near Sendai. The city is recovering, but there is still a lot of rubble.

“That is a big problem in Japan, because cities were flattened and there are piles of rubble they don’t know what to do with.

“Their coastline was badly hit. They lost a lot of people.”

Some of the party helped clear bricks and build homes, while Sanae went to meet some of the 60,000 families still living in temporary accommodation. She helped organise a Christmas party for families living there, with cakes, music and presents.

She adds: “They were touched to know people far away from Japan were thinking about them.

“As a human rights researcher and activist, I learned victims are encouraged to know there are people thinking about them, showing sympathy and caring about them.

It can be a source of energy for them.”Among her visits was a chilling trip to a gymnasium in Nobiru. Now a pristine school sports hall, the gym served as a mortuary for the bodies of those killed by the waves.

Many had run to the gym for shelter after the quake, only to be overcome by the wall of water which followed.

She also visited Okawa primary school, where 70 per cent of the pupils were killed.

As well as physical damage, the disaster has had a lasting effect on the psyche of the survivors.

In one ward alone in the port city of Sendai, between 200 and 300 people were found dead.

Thousands more, living near the Fukushima nuclear power plant were ordered out of their homes for fear of contamination.

Even more telling is the fact national suicide rates rose by almost 20 per cent after the disaster,as the population struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.

This is why Sanae believes much more is needed than simply immediate aid or even rebuilding the area’s shattered infrastructure.

She explains: “Education is important now to look after children who have lost their fathers and mothers.

We need to provide for their mental care.” Sanae returned to the UK to resume her role, teaching at the university's world-renowned human rights centre.

The university has strong links with the disaster fund.

Its Japan International Society raised more than £7,500 for the British Red Cross.

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