My Red Cross Story (4)Yutaka Tanaka
"My Red Cross Story:A Mountain of People Gathering on the Top of a Foreign Hill.The day I cried over a terrible scene"
By:Yutaka Tanaka Formerly worked at JRCS Disaster Management and Social Welfare Department
(c) Ombretta Bagigo, IFRC
It was in 1975 when I first traveled overseas.
When I worked in the general affairs department, I visited Timor-Leste, escorted by the Indonesian Army.
The former Portuguese territory was divided over the issue of whether it should be annexed to Indonesia or it should become independent. The country was in chaos and more than 300,000 people were reported to have lost their lives due to a combination of massacres and famine.
No victim support group was allowed to stay on the island except the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) that continued to provide support.
The Japanese Red Cross provided beans as their staple food as well as salt.
I traveled every day on the regular flights from Bali to check whether the victims truly needed them and that the supplies were securely delivered to the victims.
In Timor-Leste, the roads were torn up and the helicopters of the ICRC were the only means of transport.
On top of a small hill without hardly any trees, there stood a forlorn wooden cottage and a mountain of people gathered around it...
As far as the eyes could see, the hill was filled with lines and lines of people waiting for their rations.
The staff of the ICRC checked the ration cards one by one before handing out the rations and children were given fortified biscuits as necessary.
I could not help but shed tears over the sight.
Even today, I cannot express accurately what I felt at the time.
It is not that I simply felt sorry or sad for what I was witnessing.
I thought at the time,“People die instantly. This should not be happening.”
It is the human being that is suffering and that has caused this misery.
I might have felt anger towards such irrationality.
I had already worked for the organization for 10 years.
I thought to myself for the first time, “This is the Red Cross. I am one of its members.”
When I returned to Tokyo, I talked about my experience to the staff around me. But nobody could understand such irrationality.
If my boss at the time had not told me to go there and see with my own eyes the situation, I would have been in the same boat.
I felt the same feeling later at the refugee camps in Cambodia at the border with Thailand, in Siberia to support Russia , in Kobe at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and in Tokyo when I received Japanese wives living in North Korea who had come back to Japan temporarily.
The Red Cross is active... and I am in the middle of it.
Some of the words in the mission statement of the Japanese Red Cross state: “Our Determination”: “We should be sensitive towards the pain and agony of people and act at all times with imagination.”
I value these words as a member of Red Cross.
* The original text was compiled in a book "Watashi no nakano Sekijyuji " published by PHP Institute. Translation and editing for English text was conducted by the Japanese Red Cross.