VIU students raise $22,500 for relief efforts in Japan

May 9, 2011 - 4:14am

Imagine being a student thousands of kilometres from home and hearing on the six o’clock news that a devastating earthquake and tsunami has decimated your country.

Words can barely describe the shock and horror experienced by Japanese students like Sachiko Ishibashi when she learned an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the richter scale wreaked havoc in northeast Japan.

“It was unbelievable,” said Ishibashi a third-year Tourism Management student at VIU, who was part of a dedicated group of students who raised $22,500 for relief efforts in Japan.

When news spread quickly around the world about the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Japanese students at VIU were in a state of shock. Three days later, a group of about 50 students met on campus to share information and feelings about the disaster. VIU provided a meeting room and access to a counsellor. “Many of us did not have access to information about the earthquake for a while,” said Ishibashi. “Some of us could not contact our families and friends. It was a very difficult time.”

When they did see pictures on TV, the students couldn’t believe their eyes. The earthquake and tsunami caused extensive damage, blackouts, fires, and a nuclear power plant explosion.

“Survivors, including parents and friends of students studying at VIU, were directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami and are still suffering from the damage,” said Ishibashi.

The students immediately swung into action to help. They created the Stand Up for Japan project to raise awareness and funds to help survivors. One group of students contacted local restaurants and asked to set up donation boxes. Another group formed a fundraising team and established partnerships with malls and grocery stores, raising money at various sites. A third group focused on getting expressions of community support from Nanaimo to victims in Japan.

“The students did an amazing job,” added Richard Payne, International Activity Coordinator at VIU. “The students were really in awe at how much Canadians care about Japan and its people.”

Ishibashi reports that “the situation in Japan has not improved much because of disorganized relief efforts of the Japanese government. It has been difficult for the survivors to get monetary supports, donated food and goods, despite the many volunteer groups, NGOs, and private companies helping on the ground,” she said. “Many people are still homeless and jobless. Some people were forced to evacuate their homes because of the threat of radiation from the nuclear power plant, and they still have not been allowed to return to the area,” she said. “Some people refused to move out as they wish to live where they have grown up. One thing is sure – the issues are very complex, and the government of Japan needs a lot of help to rebuild the area.”

Ishibashi said proceeds from the three-week fundraising campaign will be turned over to the Canadian Red Cross Society.

“I appreciate the significant support from Nanaimo area restaurants and malls, businesses and individual residents during our campaign,” she said. “Many students contributed a great amount of time and effort into these activities. We will not forget the generosity of our Canadian friends, VIU students and the people of Nanaimo.”

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