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Answering the call in earth quaked Japan

Lives were instantly torn and destroyed when an enormous earthquake and tsunami shook Japan and swept away homes, livelihoods and loved ones on March 11. Large pieces of 300 tonne concrete retaining walls that once stood 20 feet tall in the ocean lay among the wreckage and ruin affecting entire cities and villages across the coast of Japan.

“When I heard about Japan, I felt I had to go and help any way I could,” said Peel Regional Paramedic Shannon MacNeil.  

On March 23, she took leave as a paramedic supervisor and left for Japan with Global Medic - an organization focused on providing water purification, relief supplies and equipment to those in need around the world and emergency medical services to Third world countries.  

The mission began in Sendai, a city located about 70 to 80 kilometres from Fukushima. Travelling with a translator into 15 villages and two cities, Shannon and a group of Ontario paramedics purified water and trained the locals to do the same using a small portable purification system. On the island of Ajishima, people relied on tap water supplied through piping under the ocean floor. With the piping completely destroyed, this group was very happy to have the water purification system arrive when it did; it produces four litres of water a minute into potable drinking water.

In Miyakojima, she met a man who had lost his home and business. Walking throughout the city in search of his belongings, he was digging through rubble about 10 kilometres from where his home once stood.  As he pulled an album filled with memories of family, he smiled from ear to ear and proudly spoke of his wife who was a Geisha. She also survived the catastrophe. Others weren’t so lucky.

“Though it’s heartbreaking to meet the people and hear their stories of loss, their strength and resilience is truly amazing,” said MacNeil. “I watched children out in the streets play and laugh while others helped one another pick up the pieces to start rebuilding their lives.” 

From the time she was a little girl, Shannon imagined going to places like Africa where she could give medical care to those in need. She began volunteering with Global Medic in 2009 once her three children and two stepchildren were old enough for her to go. “My global experiences have made me more compassionate toward people and given me insight into how other cultures understand our own health care system.” 

Just this past fall, the scenes she witnessed in Pakistan were even more devastating. The worst floods the country has ever seen washed away what very little already exists in the third world conditions so many already live in. And in 2009, she went on a training mission to Cambodia where she taught first-aid and ran health clinics at orphanages and in rural areas.

Back home, Shannon is familiar with responding to those who need help. Besides working as a paramedic, she’s been involved in local blanket and food drives and kids clubs. “You don’t have to go half way around the world to make a difference,” says MacNeil.  

Using personal vacation time, Peel paramedics have been volunteering their skills with Global Medic around the world for some time now. Sean Large, Michael Thomas and Sarah Caloccia provided health care and water purification for the many thousands affected in the 7.7 earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010. Along with Shannon, Sean and Augusto DaSilva, another Peel Paramedic, were also part of the 2009 Cambodia mission.

In an emergency, always call 9-1-1


Revised: Tuesday May 03 2011

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