I remember my Mom calling at 2am and demanding that I turn on the television, and as my sleepy eyes adjusted to the footage of an unthinkably vast wall of muddy water engulfing an entire town, I thought, “Why does she want me to watch another one of those cheesy Roland Emmerich disaster flicks?” But then I realized this was not CGI -- this was CNN. It was live. And it was Japan.
This Sunday marks one year since the world watched in horror as a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the island nation, triggering a devastating tsunami and claiming the lives of an estimated 19,000 people. More than 300,000 Japanese people remain homeless and 3,300 are still unaccounted for according to Reuters -- plus the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant, the worst since Chernobyl, still threatens nearby citizens with the unknown affects of leaking radiation.
The scale of this tragedy would have been impossible to imagine -- except that we didn’t have to. We could watch it unfold as it was happening, through the smart phones of Japan’s highly connected population and the courageous coverage of 24-hour news outlets. As the UK’s Daily Mail puts it, this was “the world’s first YouTube catastrophe.”
Photo: (European Pressphoto Agency / AFLO / Mainichi Newspaper)
The shocking scenes of loss coming out of Japan galvanized the planet to respond -- and that included some of its biggest stars. Linkin Park held a secret show, Ne-Yo gamed, Lady GaGa sold bracelets and Katy Perry, Lady Antebellum, Britney Spears and Arcade Fire all auctioned off their duds in order to raise funds for relief efforts.
Our partners in action over at DoSomething.org teamed up with Students Rebuild to issue the Paper Cranes for Japan challenge to the world’s students. The outpouring of support from all 50 United States, seven Canadian provinces and more than 30 countries brought in some 700,000 cranes and inspired a $400,000 bonus donation from the Bezos Family Foundation for a grand total of $500,000 in relief funds! Check out this inspiring video for more on this youth-fueled philanthropic phenomenon:
Despite all this inspiring support, Japan is still painfully struggling to rebuild its ravaged towns and decimated communities. ABC’s Bill Weir, who returned to report on how the hardest hit areas were faring one year later, told HuffPo that “the tsunami zone was "emotionally devastating," and that there was an "overwhelming air of sadness" even in places where life has returned to normal.”
But don’t get down -- use this important day to kick your butt into action! Let’s turn heartbreak into humanity by donating to these orgs offering on-the-ground support:
+ American Red Cross: Provide for survivors by rebuilding temporary and permanent hospitals, a nursing school and boosting disaster response capacity.
+Mercy Corps: Jumpstart local economies in four towns where 148,000 people are trying to reclaim their livelihoods.
+ Architecture for Humanity: Reconstruct the northern Japan region where the earthquake and tsunami hit hardest. Collaborating with local design and construction professionals, AFH is looking to help a number of small shops and businesses recover, open, create jobs, and collectively provide a financial future for affected communities.
+ Unite for Japan: Join actor Ken Watanabe ("Batman Begins," "Inception") as he restores his home country -- his site connects you with Japan Society and Global Giving, where donations can be made to Peace Winds, Mercy Corps, International Medical Corps, The Tokyo Volunteer Network for Disaster Relief, JEN, Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities (ETIC), and the Japan NPO Center.