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Open Seminar: Refugees and Humanitarian Assistance-Reflections on My Experience in the Tohoku Disaster Area


(Dr. Yasuhide Nakamura)

On June 22 (Saturday), 2013, the Global Collaboration Center hosted an open seminar led by guest speaker Dr. Yasuhide Nakamura, professor at the Osaka University Graduate School of Human Sciences and representative of the nonprofit organization HANDS. Dr. Nakamura has devoted himself to assisting refugees and disaster victims in Afghani refugee camps, in Indonesia, and most recently, in Japanese communities stricken by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.

Dr. Nakamura began his two-hour program with an introduction to refugee problems and his work in overseas refugee camps. Next he turned his attention to programs currently under way to assist victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The lecture had a very concrete, real-world orientation, with detailed explanations of the merits and drawbacks of each type of assistance program based on Dr. Nakamura’s extensive and varied experience in the field. Participants had the opportunity to hear the first-hand account of a veteran and learn how he was able to enhance assistance to victims by applying his experience in a different setting.

For those of us working on the outside, rather than in disaster areas or refugee camps, it was especially meaningful to hear Dr. Nakamura’s views on what constitutes effective assistance and the factors government officials, academics, aid workers, and donors need to consider, since the same considerations can be applied when we decide on goals for our own volunteer activities.

Finally, in discussing the resilience for which the Japanese are noted and the great potential of the children in the disaster area, Dr. Nakamura eloquently conveyed the strength and determination of the disaster victims in the face of enormous challenges.

(Question-and-answer session)

The interest and enthusiasm of the audience was evident from the many questions participants posed afterward, completely filling the time allotted. All of these questions focused on specific problem areas and prerequisites for successful assistance programs, and the ensuing discussion was rich in specifics.

This was a valuable seminar in that it introduced participants to the experiences of someone directly involved in assistance, making it easier for us to envision conditions in the field, and provided us with important food for thought.

(Yuka Suzuki, third-year undergraduate student, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science)

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