KAHULUI - Feeling helpless thousands of miles away from home, Japanese college student and Kahului resident Mika Kawachino made 500 fliers and has sent numerous e-mails that are circulating in several states asking for help for people in Japan.
A massive earthquake and tsunami devastated areas of the nation March 11.
Kawachino, a 21-year-old University of Hawaii Maui College student, said that she is usually shy and doesn't want to call attention to herself, but the tragedy back home made her want to take action, so she used skills in graphic arts that she learned from her dad back in southern Japan (which wasn't affected) and made fliers urging people to donate to the American Red Cross.
Japanese citizen and University of Hawaii Maui College student Mika Kawachino takes a look at a flier she made on her computer that asks people to make donations to the American Red Cross. Kawachino said that she felt helpless being so far away from home, so she made 500 fliers and has been sending e-mails to whoever she knows asking for help. Even though Kawachino’s family wasn’t affected, because they live in southern Japan, she said she has cried for her country.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
"I still have moments I want to cry," she said last week, reflecting on what she saw happen to her country.
"If I was a billionaire, I would donate a lot of money. I'm just a student; I cannot donate a lot of money," she said.
So just days after the disaster, she and her friends distributed 500 fliers across the island, and she has sent e-mails that have reached the Big Island, Oahu, California, New York and Idaho.
"It's getting bigger and bigger," she said.
As of last week, Kawachino said she had yet to make contact with her friend Kaori Abe, whom she met at Hawaii Community College at least two years ago when Kawachino first came to Hawaii to study English.
She said Abe was from Fukushima, an area impacted by the earthquake and the home to a damaged nuclear plant. Abe had gone back to Fukushima after school, Kawachino said.
"I sent two e-mails to her," Kawachino added.
But she understood that area may not have electricity or e-mail, so that may be why she hasn't heard from her friend.
Kawachino's flier asks people to send their "Aloha to Japan."
Kawachino, who is from Saga prefecture on the southern main island of Kyushu, said she can't explain how she feels about her country. "It's hard. I never felt this sad before."
Kawachino said she spoke to her parents, who told her they felt some shaking from the earthquake, but that was it.
But her friends in Tokyo said it was a "huge earthquake."
Because Japan residents are trying to save electricity, Kawachino said she tries to limit her calls and e-mails.
Kawachino said she has learned much from her host country and state during her time here.
"America is actually familiar with charity; I think I'm learning from the country," she said.
"I love Hawaii," she added, saying that people are kind. "I think what I'm doing is aloha."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.