Campus Life

UWF faculty member helps with Japan relief efforts

By Josh Newby, University Communications

Almost immediately after hearing about the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred in Japan on March 11, Paula Rappe, an assistant professor at the University of West Florida, knew she had to do something.

She and her husband Larry, who both have a history of social work and critical incident stress management, embarked on a 12-day journey across Japan to assist with tsunami relief efforts and educate the population on post traumatic stress disorder. While there, she experienced the destitution of the homeless and was moved by the people’s need for help. She was also shocked at how such basic necessities as food, water and shelter were now scarce for a majority of the sea-side population.

“I had been to Japan before and love these people dearly,” said Paula. “It broke my heart to see how disastrously their lives have changed. I wanted to help however I could.”

Upon arriving in Japan, the Rappes underwent a two-day journey to the northern portions of the country that were hit heavy by the disaster. They helped in nursing homes and assisted the newly homeless. Salvaging the affected areas was made more complicated because of the fast corrosive properties of salt water.

“After many years working as a disaster response/recovery worker, I had never seen such devastation,” said Paula. “We couldn’t work fast enough.”

After returning from northern Japan, Paula gave a presentation entitled, “Mental Health in the Wake of Disaster: Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Self.” Eighty-five students and six faculty members listened as she spoke at the Saitama College of Welfare in Japan.

The Rappes continued their relief efforts by educating the population on the mental toll a disaster of that magnitude would have and even presented a speech at the U.S. – Japan Social Welfare Seminar June 23 in Tokyo.

“My role became educating those in the affected area about how to care for themselves and others,” said Paula.

Paula and Larry Rappe returned home from Japan June 25 and quickly told others about their experience, hoping to raise awareness about the continuing plight of those affected.

“I don’t want people to forget,” Paula said. “The American media seems to have forgotten, but the Japanese people certainly haven’t.”

As of this date, 84,500 Japanese people are still living in shelters.

The Rappes’ trip was paid for by the Japan Center at UWF and the Jikei Group of Colleges in Japan.