New Employee Group Discussion

Things We Have Learned by Volunteering in Devastated Areas

Tokio Marine & Nichido has sent new employees who joined the company in April 2011 to participate in three-day volunteer activities in Otsuchi-cho, Iwate Prefecture, one of the areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. We asked Takahiro Onuma, Naofumi Ohashi and Yusuke Mukai to share what they have learned through their volunteer activities.

Naofumi Ohashi

Takahiro Onuma

Yusuke Mukai

QHow did you feel when you were told to particpate in volunteer activities at the devastated areas?

Onuma: I participated in the volunteer force at the end of May, more than two months after the disaster. When I heard about it, I felt both surprised and determined. Non-life insurance has drawn much public attention following the disaster, and I believe that there are things only insurance companies can do. I'm new to the insurance business, and I thought that being not an expert would allow me to see things and gain working knowledge from a new perspective.

But when I saw a vast stretch of land where the tsunami swept up everything, I was shocked beyond words. What could we do in just three days? What would people suffering from the disaster think of us? These were the two things that came to my mind.

Ohashi: I knew from the TV news that funds and goods were being sent to the devastated areas. I participated in volunteer activities thinking that there had to be people needing assistance and there would be something I could do to help them.

Mukai: I was also watching the TV news and felt that the earthquake and tsunami were truly devastating. I was nervous about going there and was feeling helpless. But I also felt we might be able to help people in some way during our three-day stay. Still, I felt uncomfortable about going there as volunteer staff instead of usual business.

QYou spent three days volunteering in the devastated areas. Can you tell us what you have done?

Onuma: On the first day, we worked along a river, picking up and colleting personal belongings and other things swept up by the tsunami using a shovel. On the second and third days, we helped clean up a tsunami-soaked house. On the second day, we picked up furniture, household goods and other small things, such as books, inside the house full of sand and mud, collected things that had to be thrown away and washed tableware and other items that can be used again. The last day was dedicated to the heavy work, and we hammered down the walls on the first floor, which could no longer be used, and shoveled away mud under the floor.

Ohashi: On the first day, we helped clean up a house filled with mud. Its foundation was intact, but there was 20 to 30 cm of mud piled up under the floor, so we worked to remove it. On the second and third days, we went to another house. The tsunami created a mess on the first floor, so we took everything outside, picking up items one by one and asking the owner family if they wanted to keep it or throw it away.

Mukai: I spent three days just like Ohashi. On the second and third days, we moved everything outside, swept the floor, took away flooring and removed sand and mud piled up under the floor.

QYou have communicated with disaster victims. Are there any words or scenes that left a strong impression on you?

Mukai: I didn't know what to say to them when I first met disaster victims. All I could think of was "You've had a hard time." I had no words to express my feeling. But everyone was warm and welcoming, many saying words of appreciation. Hearing these words, I felt that they were already moving forward toward recovery. They even cared about us. During a break, for example, they offered coffee and snacks and thanked us for coming a long way to help them. These words made me think I had done something meaningful, and I felt relieved.

Ohashi: I also received warm words of appreciation but felt sad when I heard people saying their town wouldn't recover in 10 years. We have to think about what we can do under such circumstances.

Onuma: At the end of the third day, they thanked us and said watching young, spirited people working together gave them energy to go on. I was glad that we were able to cheer them up a little just by working as volunteer staff.

QAfter participating in volunteer activities in the devastated areas, what do you think is the meaning of volunteering?

Onuma: Working as a volunteer means to lend a hand and be of some help to the people suffering from the disaster. Before going, I felt three days were not enough to help them. But in the devastated areas, I saw people smiling and thanking us. I have recognized that we can accomplish something in three days, and if everyone does that, it will make a huge difference. We do not have to think about "what for." Just giving a hand to people in need is the essence of volunteerism.

Ohashi: Yes, I agree. I think delivering smiles to disaster victims is the most important thing. Just answering with a smile when asked to do something will cheer them up. That's what I felt while I was working as a volunteer in the devastated areas. Keep smiling and showing we are there for them is all we have to do.

Mukai: I am from Hyogo Prefecture, and I experienced the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake when I was small. At that time, I felt relieved to see people coming to volunteer. I was a small child but I still remember I was full of gratitude. Just by working as a volunteer, we can make disaster victims have courage and cheer them up.

QYou've started working for an insurance company. What can an insurance company do, and what roles are you going to take in the future?

Onuma: What volunteering and an insurance company have in common is an ability to help and support people in need. A disaster causes considerable mental stress for people, and having someone to help them will mean a lot to them.

During the new employee training program, I had a chance to accompany one of our appraisers to investigate a house damaged by earthquake-caused liquefaction in Urayasu City, Chiba Prefecture. The loss adjuster examined the damage and told the customer the amount of insurance losses They said "It will help" and thanked us. The look on their faces when they thanked us reminded me of the smiles I saw when I was volunteering in the disaster areas.

Ohashi: What an insurance company can do when something happens to its customers is to be there as their truly reliable partner, handling insurance claims and giving advice on what to do to overcome the hardship. Whether it is auto insurance or home insurance, we can support our customers both financially and mentally. I think that delivering confidence is the most important role of insurance companies.

Mukai: In regions where earthquakes do not occur frequently, people become less alert for the occurrence of a large-scale earthquake. So employees like us, who know what it is like, have to tell people the importance of earthquake insurance. I'm still asking myself what my roles are, but I would like to keep thinking while accepting and absorbing what I feel from time to time.

Onuma: President Sumi mostly talked about the disaster in his speech given at the entrance ceremony. Seeing with my own eyes the influence of our products and services on society immediately after joining the company was a great experience for me. I should always remember that feeling in my everyday work. I'm still inexperienced and cannot "save" customers alone, but I'm determined to communicate with customers and agents with sincerity and, while doing so, find out the meaning of my work. I will remember what I've felt after the disaster and share it with all stakeholders.

Ohashi: We must think about how we communicate our volunteer experience to customers we will meet in the future. We have to tell customers about risks we have come to know and the importance of insurance. That's what I've learned from my experience of volunteering in the devastated areas.

It is sad to say, but the role of insurance gains significance after a disaster. It is also a good opportunity to raise awareness among us and appropriately identify risks which our customers are facing to provide appropriate products and services.