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SFU student joins Japan relief effort

April 29, 2011

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As she watched breaking TV news on March 11 of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Japan, June Fukumura wasted no time deciding to return there and help with relief efforts.

“I knew almost immediately I had to go,” says the first-year theatre student and Canadian-born daughter of Japanese immigrants. She spent last year teaching English in Tokyo and numerous childhood summers in the country with relatives.

Fukumura quickly contacted the Vancouver Japanese community’s Tonari Gumi volunteer organization to help raise money through the B.C. Japan Earthquake Relief Fund for victims of the tragedy, which has left more than 13,000 people dead, 15,000 missing and 139,000 homeless.

And on May 18 Fukumura, who speaks fluent Japanese, leaves for Japan to volunteer for three months with two relief organizations in the quake zone’s hardest hit areas.

With the first, a Japan-based non-profit called Youth for 3.11, she’ll be working with Japanese university students, “doing things like cooking, distributing food and donated goods and clearing out debris,” she says. “Plus I hope to do some translating/interpreting for foreign volunteers.”

The second group based in Sendai city, which suffered catastrophic damage from the quake and tsunami, is a new organization comprised of foreign English teachers living in the affected area called Teachers for Japan. “It’s not a major organization,” she says, “but it’s very specific to kids and education.”

Fukumura has “never done anything like this before,” she says, but helping people in crisis is something of a family tradition. Her parents Seiji and Natsumi first met in the mid-1970s in Thailand, where they were volunteering at a camp for refugees from war-torn Laos and Cambodia, before moving to Canada.

“My dad says everyone should do something like this once their life,” says Fukumura, whose mother died eight years ago.

“I’m very proud of her,” adds her father. “And my wife would be proud too.”

For more info, visit the B.C. Japan Earthquake Relief Fund at http://bc-jerf.ca/; Youth for 3.11 at http://youthfor311.jimdo.com/english/; and Teachers for Japan at www.teachersforjapan.org. Follow Fukumura’s blog: junefukumura.blogspot.com/.

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