I think the desire to help out where you can is pretty universal. And when you turn on the tv/ radio/ open a newspaper and the disaster hits you in the face you really do feel incredibly guilty sitting in your warm house drinking fresh brewed coffee and contemplating Spring planting schedules. So lots of people are busy doing lots of different activities to help out. HOPE International is sending trucks of goods up north from Nagoya, as is an International school in Tokyo, there's "socks for Japan" sending socks (der!) groups looking out for the animals that have been abandoned (they can't go into the evacuation shelters)/ survived while their owners didn't, my friend Cassie knitting berets and auctioning them off at http://blackoutberet.wordpress.com/ etc etc.
I gave my money to the Red Cross fund, I gave my spare room to the ILs but it didn't seem like I was doing enough. I have no medical/ rescue skills and two kids to look after so I wouldn't be heading up to do hands on work. What could I do? Then I heard about this project:
Each of the evacuation centres (and there are hundreds of them) has lists of evacuees up. People in the disaster areas can walk around and check the lists looking for their friends and families. But those who can't physically get there were getting information in dribs and drabs as it came out. A group of people started taking mobile phone pictures of the message boards and posting them on the net. Some of the lists are printed, others handwritten in neat rows, some are pieces of paper with personal notes from families 'We're safe. We're here on the 2nd floor' etc etc. Some like this one are pretty much illegible:
But with technology on our side and a strong desire to help a community of people from other parts of Japan and even some Japanese living oversees began typing up all the lists so they are readable and then inputting al the information into Google People Finder Japan which was set up by Google in response to the earthquake as a place to post information on people you are looking for or people who have contacted you that they are safe.
Then, someone on Facebook pointed out that all the foreign names were being input in Japanese alphabet which would drastically reduce the chances of overseas families getting information. So a group of us went through all the lists again (thousands of pages) and romanised as many names as we could and added them to people finder as well as pointing out Chinese and Korean names so others who read those languages could post them up as well.
The lists are a real insight into what is going on up there. Many of the evacuation centres are schools and evacuees are assigned to rooms, the people in each room listed as such and a room leader decided on. Special needs such as baby formula, medicines and nappies are listed next to some names.
After the initial panic died down there was also a lot of movement between evacuation centres with updates such as 'moved to hospital via helicopter' 'moved to X gymnasium' 'left with family members A, B, C for relative's house in Y city'. It gives me hope that while conditions at the centres are obviously bad (food and fuel shortages and very low temperatures) people are taking steps to do what they can to make it the best it can be.
I've been doing it every spare minute since I found out about the project and I think my eyes are done in. I don't know how the full-time translators do it- my eyes are not meant for staring at incy wincey text for hours at a time! We caught up with the backlog of files last night and only one file has been posted this morning so the work has dried up for now and my eyes can have a rest.
But considering the conditions in so many other areas I really think a little optical discomfort is something I can live through huh? Especially if it means I can help some worried friend or relative get information on a loved one that little bit sooner, huh?