Volunteer advocate says hearing people out is critical

By ILIERSA TORA

KUMAMOTO, Japan – October 26, 2019: 8.05pm (Nuku’alofa Times): Volunteer organisations and those going in to give assistance after disasters should not decide what and how things should be done, a Japanese volunteer advocate said today.

That’s the clear message from Ryouta Matsuoka, an official of the Kumamoto City based Yukyu No Kai volunteer organisation.

Ryouta Matsuoka,(kneeling) an official of the Kumamoto City based Yu-kyu No Kai volunteer organisation.

He and his group have been helping earthquake survivors in a Mashiki Town temporary housing village recover and return to normal life more than three-and-a-half-years after double earthquakes devastated the area in April 2016.

Having been a survivor himself of an earlier earthquake in 1995, Mr Matsuoka said those offering assistance should not be deciding how aid should be delivered.

“They should listen to the people and see what the needs are first,” he said.“They should not go in with the assistance that might not be needed and deciding how and what should be done.”

This is a timely message for Pacific Island countriesthat depend heavily on donor-provided aid projects.

Mr Matsuoka said volunteers and their organisations should meet with the affected communities to learn about their needs and how best assistance could be implemented.

He said being of assistance or volunteering means one has to work with those needing the assistance and take them through until they have fully recovered from the disaster.

“It is like a marathon,” he said. Mr. Matsuoka said in a marathon runnershave different abilities: Some will be slow and some are fast.

Part of the temporary houses that house victims of the double earthquakes which hit Kumamoto in 2016. Photo: NUKU’AOFA TIMES

“There are runners who take the lead in some instances and others need to follow from the back to ensure everyone finishes the marathon,” he said.“That is how it is supposed to be when you volunteer to help people.”

But Mr. Matsuoka said his own experience with volunteer-provided disaster relief in 1995 as an 11-year-old boy and in Mashikisince 2016 motivated him to advocate for the needs of earthquake survivors.

Mr Matsuoka said many organisations that offer assistance have their own agendas and claim they are helping people but in reality those who need their assistance often never received it.

Pacific Island countries have continued to suffer from this practise, with donors determining plans of action for locals, without community consultations and awarenessthat reduces benefits and sustainability for the local community.

  • Iliesa Tora is part of the APIC Japan Media Fellowship in Kumamoto this week.

 

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