In the past week and a half, I have not been posting much. Part of the reason why is because I am trying to stay true to the Lenten fast commitment I made based on Luke’s suggestion (talked about here). Another part is because when I have failed to keep my abstinence, I have often been online looking up things about Shichigahama instead of pursuing my usual interest in writing about home and schooling.
“Shichigahama?” you might ask. “What is that?” In short, it is the place I called home from 1993-1996 – a small, coastal village in the northern Japan that holds a large piece of my heart; a town where folks welcomed me as an English teacher and community member; a place where “intercultural exchange” stopped being simply a term in a textbook for me and became an appreciated reality of life. Shichigahama was – and always will be – a part of who I am.
Tragically, Shichigahama will never again look as it did when I last saw it. Located about 30 miles Northeast of Sendai City, towards the epicenter of the March 11th 8.9 earthquake in Japan, the village sustained relatively little damage from the earthquake itself, but was torn asunder by tsunami that followed. Waves as high as 28 feet washed away complete areas of the town – homes I tutored at, beaches I frequented, roads I traveled along every day are now either completely gone or are buried under literal feet of buildings turned to rubble and vehicles tossed about like matchbox cars. A good portion of the town is littered with “what was”.
Luckily, the entire town is fortified by what “is” and always has been a part of Shichigahama – community. Even as heartbreaking stories of loss and destruction continue to unfold in layers of lives gone, property destroyed and resources becoming depleted, the people of Shichigahama remain steadfast in their commitment to support one another. All town employees are living, 24-7, at their places of employment, taking turns to keep town leadership going. Meanwhile, other folks in town are coming together to offer each other housing, supplies and aid.
Indeed, even as tragic tales continue to be written, inspiring stories play out. The same sense of unwavering strength, kinship and cooperation that I witnessed among the people of Shichigahama during better times in the 90’s is apparent in the reports I receive daily about the town now. The people of Shichigahama remain together even as their hometown has been torn apart.
And, they are not alone.
Shichigahama, my hometown of three unforgettable years, has long been “sister towns” with my childhood hometown of Plymouth, MA. Since the tragedy struck, folks in Plymouth, as well the many English teachers and Coordinators of International Relations that have helped with the sister town exchange through the years, have come together online to exchange news about the Shichigahama residents we care about as well as to discuss how best to offer support to our friends across the globe.
Among all the threads of the discussion, a simple principle has been a unifying one: Plymouth and Shichigahama have enjoyed a longstanding relationship as sister cities and, through it, hundreds of lives have been touched. Friendships span across the globe. Support does, too.
Part of that support is offered through ongoing prayers. Another portion is extended through messages of caring sent via internet and phone lines. Finally, a very tangible piece is coming together in the form of donations.
Tomorrow, the Rotary Club of Plymouth, which has had a longstanding and direct relationship with its sister Rotary club in Shichigahama, is sponsoring a fundraiser in conjunction with the Town of Plymouth and Plymouth Area Community Television.
The PACTV site explains:
The Sister City Telethon can be viewed in Kingston and Plymouth, MA LIVE on the following channels; Comcast Channels 13 & 15 and Verizon Channels 43 & 47. 95.9FM WATD will also host their programming live at the PACTV studios during the event. The telethon will also be streamed LIVE on the PACTV website (www.pactv.org) and the Town of Plymouth's website (www.plymouth-ma.gov).
During the hours of the LIVE televised event, donors can call (774) 283-4477. Donations can also be made by clicking on the paypal link above this message. An account has been set up with Northeast Community Bank, donation checks can also be made out to "Plymouth Rotary Charitable Fund". In the memo line write "Shichigahama Relief Fund" and send the checks to: Northeast Community Bank, 8 North Park Ave., Plymouth, MA 02360.
Businesses that make a donation of $1,000.00 or more will be invited to present their check LIVE on air at the telethon. If your business is interested in doing this, please email Donna Rodriguez and she will schedule a time for you to appear on the telethon with your donation.
It also provides a link to donate via Paypal.
I can attest that I know some of the people involved in the making of this telethon and can vouch for their commitment and character. I personally trust that the proceeds raised in the telethon will be delivered to the Rotary Club of Shichigahama to be used directly towards the stabilization and rebuilding of Shichigahama and surrounding villages.
Alternately, I also fully trust the town leadership in Shichigahama to do what is necessary for the town. They have recently announced that funds can be donated directly to the town of Shichigahama through bank transfers to help folks start rebuilding as soon as possible. The information for doing so is as follows:
Bank name: 77 Bank
Branch name: Shichigahama Branch
Account type: ordinary (savings)
Account number: 9000887
Account holder's name: Shichigahama Accounting Manager, Shinya Abe
Finally, I want to add that I have also experienced Japan through other programs, including as a student on Semester at Sea in 1992 and a participant of Ship for World Youth in 2001. Through such exchange programs, I have experienced first-hand, over and over again, the value that Japan places on extending its own incredible sense of community to building a worldwide sense of unity, peace and harmony.
Earthquakes and tsunamis damage things and affect people in unfathomable ways. Prayer, caring and support can be equally impressive. With this in mind, I urge you, even if you don’t feel a personal connection to Japan as I do, to be a part of a healing force. Please, come together with me in whatever way you are able to – through spiritual sustenance or through offering time, talent or treasure – to wash over Japan with love.