Volunteers Jim Giaccone and Patricia Dorph shared their 9/11 stories with 8 nursing students from the March 2011 tsunami affected Tohoku region of Japan yesterday, and 2 nursing students from Rutgers, in a meeting hosted in the conference room of Goldman Sachs. The participants in this full morning dialogue were welcomed by Nathan Bird, a Vice President in the Risk Division at Goldman Sachs who manages the firm’s global business continuity efforts. Mr. Bird opened his remarks by saying that Goldman Sachs responded right away when the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster took place in March 2011 by providing volunteer efforts, funding, and scholarships for area students. He thanked the 9/11 Tribute Museum for collaborating in the morning’s meeting saying that the 9/11 community and the 3/11 community have learned from and continue to learn from each other. He emphasized the value to the global community of the connections forged by joint understanding.
Gary Moriwaki of the US-Japan Council spoke next, giving background on the Tomodachi program that is sponsoring the nursing students’ visit to the US. The Tomodachi initiative evolved out of a joint military response between the US and Japan when the earthquake and tsunami that killed almost 20,000 people and wiped away whole towns along the northeast coast of Japan occurred. There have been 47 Tomodachi projects in the past 6 years that have served 36,000 participants, including more than 5,000 young people who have been brought on educational trips to the US with additional support from Johnson & Johnson and Goldman Sachs.
The next two speakers were experts in the field of disaster response and disaster preparedness – Jim James, Executive Director of the Society for Disaster Medicine and Public Health, and Cham Dallas, Director of the Institute for Disaster Management at the College for Public Health at the University of Georgia. Jim James spoke about the importance of focusing more recovery efforts on the long-term effects after a disaster. He also highlighted the great need for education of health care workers. Professor Dallas, who specializes in understanding exposure to radiation and has lead 12 investigative trips to Chernobyl and 6 trips to Fukushima, said that people tend to overestimate risk when talking about radioactivity because there is great fear around that unseen force.
The nursing students visit to the US was organized by Children’s National Hospital, in Washington D.C. Three of the nursing students from Fukushima told their personal stories of 3/11. Speaking in Japanese but with an English translation of their narrative displayed on a screen behind them, the students spoke with great emotion. The first one cried as she spoke about how hard it still feels to talk about 3/11. She said that after houses around her were destroyed, she was at first in shock, but then began to long for a return to her teenage life. She felt guilty that she wanted to appreciate normalcy after many had experienced such great loss. A young male student from Rikuzentakata said his family’s house was destroyed by the tsunami so they moved away. When he enrolled in a new school in an area that hadn’t experienced the destruction, he was at first disheartened that no one could understand his feelings. Later, he determined that he was getting enriched by understanding students in the new town’s different ideas and thoughts, but he knew that he wanted to become a nurse so that he could help people.
Tribute Museum Volunteer Jim Giaccone spoke to the group about his horrible realization on September 12 that his brother Joseph Giaccone who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald would not be coming home. Jim told the students how much he had changed as a result of 9/11 – he expresses his emotions much more readily, crying when he never would have cried before. He also talked about his volunteering to help others, in particular, working with Tuesday’s Children, he has been a mentor to two young boys who lost their father on 9/11. Jim also recounted his two trips to Tohoku with groups of Tribute docents who have traveled to give support to the survivors of 9/11. He said that initially he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to communicate with people in Japan, but that after having dialogues with the help of sensitive interpreters, he realized that these conversations played a key part in his own healing.
Tribute Museum Volunteer Patricia Dorph, a retired nurse, spoke to the group of nursing students next. Married to a member of the Fire Department of the City of New York, Patty told the group that as a mother, a wife and a nurse, she immediately wanted to do something to help after 9/11. When she went to her husband’s firehouse and saw all of the wives of the other surviving firefighters, and the widows of the firefighters who were killed, she realized that they all needed to talk. She and a friend organized informal meetings for the women, and started a group called “The Other Side of the Firehouse,” which gave the women a chance to share their stories of everything that was happening to them and their families in the many months after 9/11.
After the full morning’s program, Patty brought the nursing students and their mentors for a tour of the new galleries at the 9/11 Tribute Museum. The students took extensive notes throughout and will be writing their own blog about their experiences with us.