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Former boat people help quake victims

Vietnamese happy to pitch in to help those hit by tsunami

Former boat people help quake victims
Vietnamese Catholics prepare food from their homeland for those in disaster areas special correspondent, Fukushima

May 16, 2011

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Sister Mary Le Dhi Lang of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul is one of around 30 people—all originally from Vietnam—who went to Ena Elementary School in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture recently to prepare food for those still stranded in the evacuation center there following the northern Japan earthquake and tsunami in March. “We ‘boat people’ also had a terrifying experience with the sea. People suffering (now) are the same as we were back then,” said Sister Lang. “All of us agreed we had to do whatever we can. So we collected money after Mass and made arrangements to come.” Many of those on hand on May 4 were Vietnamese Catholics from Kawaguchi Church in Saitama or from Tokyo and Kanagawa, while others were non-Catholic Vietnamese who also wanted to help. Some present had only come to Japan from Vietnam in the past few years. Even Vietnamese back in their homeland pitched in. Young people there worked together to make a banner on a large piece of cloth, with numerous messages of support written across the banner with markers. The sign was hung outside the booth where the volunteers prepared food for the evacuees. About 110 people are now living at Ena Elementary School in the wake of the tsunami and other disasters of the past two months. The Vietnamese prepared enough Vietnam-style meals to feed about 250 people and delivered them to Ena Elementary and two other evacuation centers in Iwaki City. Takashi Takayama, a Vietnamese man who took a Japanese name after starting a new life here long ago, said: “We have wanted to show our thanks to Japan for a long time now. As trivial as this is, we’re just glad to finally have a chance to do something. Actually, more people wanted to come, but we kept the group to just the number of people actually needed to do the work. We tried to make food that the Japanese would be happy to eat.” The Vietnamese community proposed this event to the Saitama Diocese Support Center, which arranged for its local base of volunteer operations in that area, Yumoto Station in Iwaki City, to facilitate it. According to Deacon Nguyen Quoc Toan, a Yumoto Station staff member, “it’s hard to go into an evacuation center” because the people there are sometimes reluctant to open up to visitors. However, little by little, the Station has build up a rapport with the disaster victims, sending five people to the centers each week to act as “volunteer listeners” who simply lend a friendly ear. Because many people staying at another evacuation center, Ena Junior High School, went out during the day to try to clean up their own storm-battered homes, the Vietnamese group went there later on, during the evening, and treated them to a fresh, hot meal. At the end of the day, when the volunteers were introduced to those in the Junior High as “the Vietnamese people who have come from Kawaguchi for us,” a spontaneous cry went up: “Arigato! Thank you!” Some evacuees clapped or waved both hands in broad expressions of thanks. The Vietnamese, whose gestures of greeting had initially been understated, gladly joined in, waving and bowing. “There’s really nothing like that,” said Deacon Toan. translated by Dominic Pease
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