After disaster struck the Fukushima Prefecture in the spring of 2011, the region has prioritized the need to re-examine their preparedness for future disasters. One startling statistic born out of the disaster was that the mortality rate amongst persons with disabilities was more than double that of the average person. International Medical Corps has partnered with non-profit organizations like Iwaki City’s WaiWai Workshop to ensure that the next time disaster strikes all groups are prepared to be their own best first responders.
The Waiwai Workshop is a vocational training program that supports the independence of people living with disabilities. Participants who are intellectually, psychologically, and physically disabled, work together to assemble light switches, high-end ballpoint pens, and handcrafts such as key-chains. The workshop provides individuals with the opportunities to learn valuable skills while earning a steady wage. Waiwai fosters a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence in those who take part in this unique program.
The Waiwai Workshop knows all too well the unique obstacles faced by the disabled community when responding to disaster. The center was flooded after the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, forcing those in the workshop to evacuate immediately. Operating in complete darkness, staff members used a rope to guide everyone out of the building to a nearby hill narrowly escaping the floodwaters. The Center’s Director, Mr. Igari, even housed several individuals at his home after the disaster. In the wake of the flooding, Aid and Relief (AAR) Japan, another International Medical Corps local partner, was instrumental in the reconstruction of the facility. The new and improved facility boasts new accessibility features such as handrails, ramps, and multiple exits making it better equipped for evacuation for future disasters.
Earlier this month, International Medical Corps, in partnership with AAR Japan and the Iwate Social Welfare Council, held a training on emergency preparedness specific to the disabled population for the staff and workers at WaiWai. Each individual who attended received a backpack that included 30 items essential in disaster response, including drinking water, non-perishable food, and a first aid kit. Attendees also received basic training to increase their knowledge about the unique hazards they could face in the wake of another disaster.
“Up until now, we were too overwhelmed with dealing with the aftermath of the last disaster that we couldn’t spare the time to think about dealing with future dangers,” explained Mr. Igari after the training concluded. “I feel that your help comes at the perfect time.”
International Medical Corps will continue to work with partners like AAR Japan to increase the resilience of people with disabilities by giving them both the tools and knowledge to manage risk and be their own first responders in times of disasters.