4 minute readHealth & Safety, International, Military Support, Volunteers
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Red Cross Youth Leader in Japan Shares Her Experience

American Red Cross Youth Leader Emily Stith is a junior at Nile C. Kinnick High School at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan.  She hopes sharing her experience will encourage others to lend a helping hand to Japan and prepare themselves for future disasters – wherever they may strike.

“As part of the Red Cross Youth on-base here in Yokosuka, we have done a lot to help our community.  We have put on a school supply drive for children in Afghanistan and a book drive for the Naval Hospital, sent Valentines and care packages to troops in the Middle East and even planned events with the Youth Group at the Japanese Red Cross like handing out holiday cards to service members.  We also just became the first official recognized DOD school club in Asia so we’re really proud of our achievements in our community – but even after all of that, like the rest of the world, we were still shocked by the earthquake.

Emily Stith, 16, visits the Torii gate, a World Cultural Heritage site in Japan. She is a longtime Red Cross volunteer and helped start the Red Cross club at her high school.

I was at softball practice when the earthquake struck and I knew then and there that it was different from the previous quakes common in Japan.  I struggled to stand up straight, the light poles near the field were shaking vigorously, and the pool in the gym next to the field overflowed and the water gushed down the stairs. We were quickly evacuated away from the field because it was near the water and a tsunami warning had been issued.  I tried to call my mom who was somewhere driving off base but the phone lines for the entire country were fried because of the sudden influx of calls and no one could get a hold of anyone.  At the time we didn’t know the magnitude of the events up north, but started to get an idea driving past all traffic lights that were out on the way home.  The power was out at our house, in our whole neighborhood and throughout most of the city of Yokosuka.  We would occasionally go outside to get an update from the TV in my mom’s car, but otherwise we were sitting in the dark wondering what was happening in the rest of the country…

Saturday, the day after the earthquake, the power came back on in our area and we spent most of the day glued to the TV.  Almost every single channel on my Japanese cable TV showed news, pictures and videos of the earthquake and tsunami and the devastation they left in northern Japan.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the footage – the tsunami washing over villages and cities, cars and boats floating around like toys in a bathtub, whirlpools forming off of the coasts, other neighborhoods on fire because of gas line leaks, the tsunami being on fire due to the gas fires, people calling for help stranded on top of buildings, concerns about the nuclear plants… I had a hard time believing this was all happening in the same country as me.

My mom, planning in case the situation got worse, made sure we had all the emergency supplies we would need.  She gathered water, candles, batteries, flashlights, canned food and other items.  I knew it was “just in case” but it was all beginning to sink in; the footage from up north, the nuclear problems, the power outages, the never ending aftershock earthquakes, and the preparations.  I was beginning to question my “it’ll all get better in a couple of days” attitude and started to think “what if it got worse?”

I started racking my brain for something that I could possibly do to help by my emotions were torn.  I wished I could just go up north to help everyone myself, but I knew very well that right now the Japanese government is doing the best they can with everything. I also heard that people around the world were sending money in to help and knew that was the best way to get people the help they needed the fastest.

A couple ideas started to come to me.  I realized that not many people knew what to do during the earthquake (such as find shelter under a table if indoors, and to stay in open ground away from buildings if outdoors) so I decided to start an earthquake awareness program at our school.  I used to go to Japanese school from kindergarten up until the 8th grade, and we had earthquake drills almost every month.  I am hoping we can start something similar to that at my high school because Japan is such an earthquake prone country.  The Red Cross always encourages people to get a kit, make a plan and be informed but I thought that with this group we could help people learn not only what to do but how to do it.  When everyone gets back together on base, we also want to hold a Red Cross Youth Drive fundraiser since we can’t send in $10 donations by phone from here – but in the US you can by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999.

Even though it’s I’m still scared because earthquakes are unpredictable and could happen where I live, it makes me feel better to know that I am helping someone who survived through everything I couldn’t believe I was seeing and hearing on TV.  I want the people who have suffered to feel a little more comfortable after all that they have been through with the earthquake and tsunami.

I live south of where the damage was the worst and many signs of the earthquake still remain so I know it is going to take a while for this nation to recover.  I would love to move forward from this, but it’s hard to know how to act after a natural disaster.  It’s not something that can necessarily be taught… but hopefully the little bit that I can do to help will be able to help make a bigger difference for the people of Japan.”