A month before the tsunami hit Japan, Social Work Professor Sharon Pittman, Ph.D., was in Tokyo teaching a one-week intensive class that helped prepare students at Aoyama Gakuin University for disaster response.
For practice, the students responded to a scenario of a volcano eruption that displaced 10,000 individuals. Different groups had to run an assessment of the situation, choose how to respond within the first 24 hours, and develop strategies for ongoing assistance.
Little did Pittman’s 21 students know how valuable the training they received would become.
In the wake of the March 11 tsunami, most of the students from the class are actively volunteering their counseling, organizational, and needs assessment skills in northern Japan.
“I’ve gotten emails from the students going, ‘Wow! What you taught us, we never knew how timely it was going to be,’” says Pittman. “They actually got to practice the stuff that we were teaching them.”
An international social worker, Pittman has done similar training for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Kenya, Peru, Costa Rica, and Thailand. She has instructed more than 400 relief workers, and helped build ADRA’s original disaster response training program 15 years ago.
In May, Pittman will start an emergency training program at Southern. The 9-hour intensive course will require students to do 100 hours of simulated emergency response practice. She is also coordinating a multi-county disaster response simulation on Southern’s campus in June.
“It’s so much fun for me to teach things that are relevant to real life—” says Pittman, “something that students use to serve others.”