AAP staff report
Kunihiro Shimoji, an international student from Okinawa, Japan studying Political Science at the College of Saint Benedict’s and Saint John’s University, said the March 11th earthquake and tsunami left him in shock and, but that he and others were inspired into a two and a half month relief effort with students, faculty and local community under the slogan “Work as one and make a difference.”
As a result, the CSB/SJU relief effort with support from the local community raised $4,290.98 to benefit the Japan Red Cross.
“I was very shocked to see the tsunami destroying entire villages within seconds and I just did not know what to do, or what to say about the situation,” said Shimoji.
It was the response of concern shown to Shimoji by his American friends and fellow international students, who were sending dozens of texts to ask about his family and friends, and about the disaster in general.
The messages, “Is there anything I can do for Japan?,” “What do you want me to do? I am here for you,” “Kuni, let’s do something,” all served to inspire Shimoji to take action.
Shimji sent out a mass email to all his friends to ask for help in organizing campus fundraising events when they returned from winter break. He said that around 80 students responded that they were moved to join in as a positive outlet for their grief and shock for the Japanese people during this crisis.
After brainstorming the possibilities for campus, Shimji structured the volunteers into three different event groups: a Japanese Dinner Night; a Relief Concert and Dance Party with a Raffle; and a static disaster information display in the cafeteria on both campuses asking for donations.
“The organization of the event did not start with clubs or organization on campus, but we began our preparation with a group of students who were motivated to do something for Japan to make a change,” he said. “I assigned each group to be in charge of each event and to start preparing.”
To help the process move along smoothly, Shimoji contact both campus presidents, the Asian Studies Department, the International Student Office, International Affairs Club, and the History Department for support and advice with the organization process.
“All the people I sent an email to were more than willing to support me in any way,” said Shimoji. “The President’s office helped us with the registration process and paid the $600 fee in order to use our chosen facility. The Asian Studies Department and International Student Office helped us to brainstorm and led us to people who we would need help from. The International Affairs Club was generous enough to let us use their club account to save the money we raised through the events. A professor from the History Department donated a number of items for the raffle.”
P. Richard Bohr, CSB/SJU Professor of History and Chair of Asian Studies, said the department was honored to support the efforts of hundreds of students to raise funds for disaster relief in Japan.
“This effort builds on long decades of Benedictine roots in Japan as well as the growing student and faculty exchanges between CSB/SJU and our partner schools in Tokyo and Okinawa,” said Bohr. “We are delighted that over one thousand students participated in the three fundraisers organized by Kunihiro Shimoji and his dedicated colleagues.
Dr. Bohr said the effort is a powerful testament to the next generation of “Asia Hands” who are building bridges with Japan and other parts of Asia. “There is no more shining example of global citizenship in today’s world,” he added.
The Japanese Dinner Night, “Relief at the Reef” was the first event after approval was granted to use a school dining center called the ‘Refectory’, nicknamed “the Reef”. The manager provided food and assistance in creating a sushi section, with more than 20 student volunteers making sushi and serving to more than 800 guests.
Courtney Kimball, a Theology and Asian Studies student, was involved with finding volunteers for events. She said the disaster moved many people and that it was not a very difficult task as many people wanted to help.
Kimball credits Alyssa Brown for proposing the idea for Relief at the Reef. It was sponsored by SJU Dining Services, the Cultural Affairs Board, CSB Campus Ministry and the Asian Studies Department.
“We contacted the Reef and they agreed not only to donate money for every person who came to the Reef to eat for dinner, but they also agreed to help us serve Japanese food,” she said. “It all just snowballed from there, as Kuni already had an e-mail list running of 75 students and staff members who had been involved in organizing other events.”
The SJU Dining Services provided and prepped all the food and agreed to donate one dollar for each guest. The donation was capped at $500, but they generously increased the amount to $796 to honor their dollar for dollar pledge.
“This event would not have been as successful as it was without their help, and we can’t thank them enough,” said Kimball, adding that around 40 volunteers helped to roll and serve sushi and 800 students packed the facility in a two hour period.
“History Professor Dave Bennetts noted that he had never seen the Reef that busy before, a true testament to the campus-wide support that came through at this event,” she added. “It was such a beautiful evening for our campuses because not only was there a lot of excitement about the event, but it drew support from students from all backgrounds and ethnicities. The campus was truly one that night because everyone was rallying together for a common cause, and I am so glad that our efforts were able to reach out to Japan!”
Shimoji was able to get three bands and a DJ to perform for the Concert, Dance Party and Raffle event. Guests were able to peruse information on the situation in Japan to get more background on the disaster and its impact; but it was also meant to be a fun night. The raffle items were donated by local community, and included gift certificates for restaurants, gift shops and other stores.
The information display panels were created and exhibited in campus buildings, and at area churches where volunteers attend. The display tables included over 1,000 paper cranes that were made by students and given out in thanks to people who made a donation.
“A number of students stopped by at the exhibit and asked us a number of questions and we were very grateful to see a number of students actually cared about the situation in Japan,” he added.
Shimji said that from the beginning he insisted on campus community involvement and that the work is in the spirit of being global citizens whether Japanese, American or anyone. He said the effort was impressive in accomplishing a commonly shared community goal and making a difference.
“Throughout this process, I was very happy to see the ties within the CSB/SJU community and relationship among students became stronger and stronger,” he said. “Moreover, I was able to gain firsthand knowledge of how everyone is depending on each other in this time of globalization.”
Shimoju said the one-time relief events have inspired a long term effort and their ideas are currently being planned into action. For more information contact Kunihiro Shimoji at k[email protected].