Unassuming Heros

I have been involved in a number of natural disasters. Once the news crews have left, the people are left to rebuild their lives and their communities. One thing that these events often shows is selfless acts of courage and sacrifice.

The central plot of The Picture is the 2011 earthquake and tsunami which struck the Tōhoku region of Japan and from which many stories of heroism sprung. Not the false heroism of a sporting star scoring the winning points in the dying seconds of a game but normal people putting their lives on the line for others, often strangers, without thought of their own safety.

We need to remember the exploits of these normal people, for they are us. They stepped up and did what needed to be done. Even with media coverage they have tried to go back to their lives without recognition or reward.

Hideaki Akaiwa was at work when the tsunami struck and arriving home he found the area was destroyed. His wife and mother were out there and, not waiting rescue workers, Hideaki put on his scuba gear and went out to search for them. He found his wife in the ruins of their home and got her to safety before returning to the floods to search for his mother. In cold and murky waters, feeling his way around dangerous debris Hideaki made it to his mother’s house and found her, alive, in the wreckage and got her to safety as well. Even though he had achieved what he set out to do, he went back time after time looking for more survivors over the days that followed the disaster.

Robert Bailey, 27, was an English teacher at a high school in the north of the disaster zone. When the earthquake struck he led his 42 students out of the school to high ground from where they watched the disaster unfold as the tsunami swept through the area and destroyed the school. Robert didn’t expect any sort of recognition even though the locals consider him a hero. Asked later his mother, back in England, said ‘… as far as he’s concerned, he’s no hero. He was just doing the job he was meant to do.’

Yasuteru Yamada, a 72 year old engineer, had already survived cancer. When the tsunami devastated the Fukushima nuclear facility he couldn’t watch younger men being subjected to radiation poisoning everyday as they struggled to clean up the aftermath. He formed a volunteer corps and called for help. 400 elderly Japanese signed up straight away and took over tasks from the younger workforce. Knowing that the radiation would shorten their lives they are philosophical about the danger, rationalizing that they will probably die before the radiation poisoning affects them.

Another part of the plot of The Picture was anti-celebrity and the stories above are why. These normal people did extraordinary things without wanting praise of recognition. A much more worthwhile type of human than empty celebrities.

What do you think, are there any unassuming heros that you think deserve recognition?

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