Messages of Hope

April 06, 2011

Student group hosts fundraising event for Japan.

About 50 people gathered on a windy Monday evening in Kogan Plaza to raise money for Japan, sign a flag and fold origami cranes.

The event, which was sponsored by the Japanese American Student Alliance, a student group, was held from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 4 and drew faculty, students and senior staff, including President Steven Knapp and Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center.

Dr. Knapp told the audience that recent disasters like those in Chile, Haiti, Japan and New Orleans particularly affect the university, because GW has so many connections in the places of devastation.

On a trip to Tokyo in November 2008, Dr. Knapp attended an event with 600 alumni. “Anything we can do to support our alumni in Japan and the country of Japan is very much a part of what it means to have Japan as a part of our global community,” he said.

Dr. Knapp also mentioned Bruno Petinaux, assistant professor of emergency medicine, who has traveled to Japan to help with emergency relief. Dr. Knapp said faculty and students coming together for the event is an “inspiring and hopeful sign that counterbalances the devastation and sadness.”

At the event, students folded paper cranes as part of a Japanese legend that a thousand cranes can help a person recover from illness. The cranes are being sent to Paper Cranes for Japan, which is donating $2 per crane to Architecture for Humanity.

Students also wrote messages of hope and signed a Japanese flag, which will be sent to the Self Defense Forces in Japan, and had the opportunity to purchase bracelets and shaved ice. A moment of silence was observed for Japan.

Several other representatives of the Japanese American Student Alliance also participated in the program. Freshman Haruka Nakagawa sang the Japanese and American national anthems. Sophomore Marjory Haraguchi, public relations chair of the group, spoke about the optimism that has followed the devastation in Japan and read the Emily Dickinson poem Hope is a Strange Invention. And junior Kazunori Koyama, who runs social media for the group, spoke about the ways students can send messages to Japan through Facebook and JapanReliefProject.com.

Attendees also had the opportunity to donate to rebuilding efforts in Chile, Haiti, China and New Orleans.

“It is extremely important to remember that even a year after a natural disaster on these extreme scales, the people are not healed and the country is not miraculously better,” said junior Emi Kamemoto, president of the Japanese American Student Alliance. “It takes time, and all of these countries need your help.”

The same will be true for Japan, according to Ms. Kamemoto. “Japan is still going to need help five and 10 years down the road,” she said.

Leo Hanami, assistant professor of Japanese language and literature and coordinator of the Japanese program, said he learned about the event from Sara Bachouros, a Japanese major who is scheduled to study abroad in Japan next year. “Hopefully, radiation fears will have settled down by then,” he said.

Dr. Hanami, who is director of the Summer Institute for Japanese Language and Culture, said his cousins live in Kitakata City in Fukushima, about 70 miles from the nuclear reactors, and his daughter, who lives in Tokyo, was “adamantly against fleeing the city,” despite his urgings.

“It was, I suppose, her way of showing support and solidarity with the people suffering in northeast Japan,” he said. “In any event, this is my small way of showing support.”

Dr. Hanami was excited to see his students writing messages of support and empathy to those who are suffering in Japan. “I was proud to see my students use the Japanese they learned here at GW to express that empathy,” he said. “It truly is gratifying.”

One of Dr. Hanami’s students who signed the flag was senior Rickie Ashman, who called studying abroad in Tokyo “one of the best experiences of my life.”

“I got to do so much over the span of a year – not just travel and eat delicious food, but I also was able to act in several films and work as a fashion model,” said Mr. Ashman. “Living with a host family taught me so much about Japanese culture and helped me become fluent in the language.”

Mr. Ashman, who is marketing chair for the Japanese American Student Alliance executive board, is a native of New Orleans. “The Japanese have donated nearly $40 million dollars to the city since Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “It means a lot to me to return their kindness.”

Since Mr. Ashman had more fascinating quotes than we could fit in this story, we posted some of those additional thoughts on our Facebook page.

To return to the George Washington Today homepage, click here.

GW Research Blog