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Students Form Coalition to Raise Funds in Wake of Crisis in Japan

Ioana Patringenaru | March 21, 2011

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Japanese students sprung into action last week to raise funds for victims of the earthquake and tsunami that hit their home country.

Related links

Help Japan

Japanese Student Association

International Center, Support
for Students impact by earthquake website

When a 9.0 earthquake followed by a powerful tsunami struck Japan March 11, Japanese students at UC San Diego knew they had to spring into action to help their homeland. They exchanged a flurry of e-mails and instant messages and came up with a plan.

Over the next week, UCSD student organizations created a coalition and named it “Help Japan.” They began holding fundraisers and requesting donations. Their goal is to raise $10,000. They’re also planning auctions and a donation drive during a Japanese festival on campus March 31.

Many Japanese students are driven by the need to provide both moral and tangible support to their home country, said Yukata Ishida, president of the 150-member Japanese Student Association. The effort wasn’t just limited to students of Japanese descent, he also said. “Everyone is getting together for this cause,” he said.

The JSA has set up a website to make donations. The effort had yieldedmore than $9,600 as of Monday morning. Japanese students said they’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response to their efforts. They also said they are incredibly grateful to everyone who donated.

Relief efforts

Students at IR/PS raised more than $5,500.

Other student groups have joined in the effort. Students from Tohoku University, near Sendai, who are on a study abroad program at UCSD Extension, raised $3,600 over three days. They made posters showing the devastation in Japan and asked for donations, no matter how small, on Library Walk.

“People were so generous,” said Eri Saito, one of the Tohoku students. “They gave so much.”

Japanese students at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies held two fundraisers last week, selling traditional Japanese snacks and collecting donations. They collected $5,514.

"We're here, we have to do something," said Mitsuhiro Nishida, one of the organizers at IR/PS.

Students from the Nikkei Student Union, the Rady School of Management and the International House also are involved in fundraising efforts.

The money will either go to the Red Cross or directly to the Japanese regions most affected by the disaster. So far, the governments of these regions have been hard to reach, said Ishida, the Japanese Student Association president.

In addition to the Help Japan webpage, there will be other opportunities for the UCSD community to contribute to relief efforts after spring break. On March 29, the Tapioca Express restaurant at the Price Center will give a 5 percent discount to customers, with 15 percent of all proceeds from the day’s sales going to the Help Japan fund.

On March 31, the JSA will hold a donation drive during its annual Japanese festival, known as a Matsuri. The festival will feature authentic Japanese food and games, as well as performances by a traditional Japanese dance team, bands, the kendo club, judo club and others. Students also will fold 1,000 paper cranes that they plan to send to Japan as a sign of moral support. The JSA also plans to auction games and gift cards.

“We applaud the members of the UC San Diego community who are reaching out in numerous ways to help the people of Japan as they continue their rescue and recovery efforts and deal with the problems caused by the damaged nuclear reactors,” campus leaders said in a statement signed by Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, Senior Vice Chancellor Suresh Subramani and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Penny Rue.

Families and friends back home

Many members of the UCSD community gave donations.

While trying to raise funds and study, Japanese students are trying to keep tabs on families back home. The Tohoku students perhaps have the closest connection with the area that experienced the worst devastation from the earthquake and tsunami—that’s where many of their families live. It took a long time, but the 20 students were finally able to reach their loved ones and their friends, said Saito. All of them are safe.

But some of the 20 students now are worried about their families’ fate if the situation at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima deteriorates further. Conflicting media reports have been creating confusion, Saito said. “I really don’t know what to believe,” she said. Many of her friends who are in Japan sound like they’re still in shock, she added. “They’ve never been so happy to be alive—that’s what they told me,” she said.

Saito says she just wants to go home as soon as possible to be with her family and friends. She lives closer to Tokyo, so that’s still a possibility for her. Many of her classmates who live further north may not have that option. Trains still aren’t running and roads are restricted to emergency vehicles only.

Nishida, one of the organizers of the fundraisers at IR/PS, has been in touch with his wife and a three-year-old daughter in Tokyo. At first, he couldn’t reach them for three days after the disaster. Finally, he heard back Tuesday. His wife was buying supplies and food that would last one week. Nishida asked her to stay home. He is set to graduate in three months, but would like to go home as soon as possible, he said. He works for the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry and is awaiting directions from the agency, he said.

Studying during the disaster

Students from Tohoku University, near Sendai, who are part of a four-week study abroad program at UCSD Extension, requested donations on Library Walk and raised more than $3,600.

The disaster’s timing coincided with finals week and has led many students to juggle fundraising, studying and keeping up with their families. Ishida, the JSA president, said it had been hard for students to focus, especially the first few days after the disaster.

Tomohiro Ito, a Japanese graduate student at IR/PS, had three final papers due and two final exams last week. He said he found he couldn’t cope and will talk to school administrators to work out his issues.  Ito’s parents live in Shizuoka, about 90 miles southwest of Tokyo.  They were fine, but Tuesday an unrelated magnitude 6 earthquake rocked that area. “I’m very worried,” Ito said.

Meanwhile, all 80 students taking part in UC’s Education Abroad Program in Japan are safe and sound, according to the UC Office of the President. The earthquake and tsunami occurred during Japanese universities’ long spring break, so many students were traveling to other parts of Asia or had returned home at the time, according to UCOP. UC announced Friday that it has suspended its study abroad programs in Japan for the rest of the 2010-11 academic year.

One professor’s experience

In addition, about 32 UC faculty, staff, researchers and graduate students were in Japan during the earthquake and tsunami, according to UCOP. Ulrike Schaede, a professor of Japanese business at IR/PS, was one of them. Schaede was on three-month sabbatical at the Bank of Japan in Tokyo.

When the quake hit, she was on the fourth floor of one of the city’s oldest department stores. She said she was impressed by the composure of employees and customers alike. One clerk shielded a rack of knives with his body so they wouldn’t injure shoppers.  Outside, barriers automatically blocked traffic on overpasses. More important, all buildings held up.

On the Sunday after the earthquake, Tokyo experienced a lovely day, Schaede said. Then events went from bad to worse at the Fukushima power plant. Still, people in Tokyo remained polite and friendly, though Schaede said she believes they’re guarded and keep their emotions bottled up inside. Japanese students said that they’re very concerned about the situation at the power plant, as are their loved ones.

“I just hope it won’t be another Chernobyl,” said Ito, the IR/PS graduate student.

Schaede was set to come back to San Diego this week. But as more and more of her meetings were canceled, she decided to come home earlier. She said she hopes some good will come of the crisis. Mitsuhiro Nishida, the IR/PS graduate student, also was optimistic that his country would ultimately overcome.

“Our duty is to revive Japan,” he said. “I believe we can do it. We revived even after World War II.”

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