Former Rotary Scholar from Japan helps her homeland recover
Top: Ambulances driven by Kurauchi’s medical team share the road with a boat swept away by the tsunami. Photo courtesy of Naoko Kurauchi
Bottom: Kurauchi (left) takes part in a polio awareness rally in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, while in India for a National Immunization Day in February. Photo by Allison Kwesell
Naoko Kurauchi, a nurse and former Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar, provided medical relief in Miyako, Japan, two weeks after her country was hit by an earthquake and tsunami on 11 March.
The disaster was overwhelming, she says. “My mind suddenly slipped back to the [South Asia] tsunami in 2004, which was what made me decide to apply for the Rotary scholarship,” explains Kurauchi, who studied international health at Queen Margaret University in Scotland in 2008-09.
Talking via Skype from Okinawa with her family in Tokyo, she could see their house shaking from aftershocks. “I was used to seeing these things happen in countries where infrastructure is inadequate,” says Kurauchi, who never expected a major disaster to strike so close to home.
Her team traveled from Okinawa to Miyako, arriving with two ambulances full of medical supplies and food. Evidence of the tsunami was everywhere. “There were boats in the middle of the road, cars on top of houses, and houses on top of roofs,” she says, adding that “the whole town was filled with mud and garbage.”
Kurauchi served in Miyako for five days. “I believe we all have something to offer,” she says, but emphasizes that “the aid needs to be really organized and well prepared.”
Her passion for humanitarian service has taken her to other parts of the world as well. In February, she traveled with Japanese Rotarians to India for a National Immunization Day. And while she was a Rotary Scholar, she did field research in Niger for her master’s thesis on PolioPlus, interviewing staff from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Islamic Relief, and other groups about the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
“Rotary taught me the concept of helping out,” she says.
During her studies in Scotland, Kurauchi was hosted by the Rotary Club of Livingston, Lothian. Her host counselor, Harry McPherson, and his wife, Myra, made her feel especially welcome, she recalls. “Countless times I went over to their place to just have dinner and spend the night. I don’t think I’d be as attached to Rotary as I am today if it weren’t for them.”
At first, Kurauchi found it difficult to overcome cultural obstacles in Scotland. In Japan, for example, greetings are always bows. “I had to remind myself to put my hand out to shake hands, and to give people hugs,” she says.
But “getting over these cultural differences gave me courage to do new things and adopt new ideas,” she explains.
Reflecting on Japan’s recovery from disaster, Kurauchi believes the damage will take years to mend, both psychologically and financially. “I wish for things to settle down as soon as possible so that I can show how beautiful the cherry blossoms are, when the wind is full of their pink petals.”
Interested in reading more about Rotary Foundation alumni? Sign up to receive Reconnections.