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Red Cross Supports Survivors through Social Services

As she stands in the porch of her temporary house, Masako Horoiwa holds her dog Meru tightly. The poor terrier is shivering with cold, but that is perhaps only part of the reason for her tight grip.

As she stands in the porch of her temporary house, Masako Horoiwa holds her dog Meru tightly.

“The dog was the only possession I managed to save when the tsunami came,” said the 72-year-old.

It was a lucky escape, but at the same time, traumatic. “When I realized the tsunami was coming, I knocked on three of my neighbors’ doors. One of them came out and was able to escape. But the other two didn’t respond.”

They were among the hundreds of people in the coastal town of Miyako in Iwate Prefecture, Japan who perished March 11, 2011.

But because of the emotional and social support of the Red Cross, Masako is beginning to put the pieces of her life back together.

She has just come back from a Saturday afternoon gathering organized by Japanese Red Cross volunteers in the community center of the temporary housing settlement Masako lives in with Meru and her daughter, an administrator at a home for the elderly.

The volunteers have been coming every week for the past few months, as part of efforts to reach out to the survivors, many of whom are isolated, having lived for most of their lives in closely knit communities which are now destroyed.

In today’s session, the residents—mostly elderly—practice massage on each other, and then lie down for a nap. As they rest, an audiotape plays soothing music and self-affirming messages such as “You are important,” and “Be kind and gentle to yourself.”

“It does help me to relax,” says Masako.

Like many of her neighbors, she feels that she is suffering from stress. The living conditions in these tiny prefabricated houses are made as comfortable as possible with the addition of electrical appliances provided by the Red Cross from funding received through the American Red Cross and other national societies.

“Before, I had my own business, a big house and two cars,” she said, petting her shivering terrier. “Now I have nothing left, except the dog.”

Masako is a member of the local reconstruction committee and she said she is eagerly awaiting updates on the process of rebuilding the town. Like most survivors, she realizes that it’s not likely to be a quick or easy process. But with luck, her trusty companion Meru, and the support of the Red Cross, she will make it through. After all, like her fellow residents, Masako is a survivor.

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami One Year Update and Slide Show Japan Earthquake and Tsunami One Year Update