Kristi Wolf: How Japan's disasters affect us all

03/19/2011 1:51 AM

03/19/2011 1:56 AM

I think it's safe to say that we have all been in shock and dismay on hearing about and seeing the coverage of the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan late last week.

Mercedians may have thought that this disaster would not affect us, but, of course, it did when the quake that hit Japan also sent a tsunami our direction. Although the damage, when the tsunami hit Hawaii and our coast, was insignificant compared to the damage it did in Japan, it's hard not to contemplate just how close we really are to this disaster.

Obviously, we Californians are no strangers to earthquakes, but many of us have never felt one as strong as the Japanese quake. I think it's safe to say that none of us has ever experienced a tsunami of the size that hit Japan either.

At Merced College, the administration, faculty, staff and students alike all realize just how close this disaster is to this community. Merced College has about 70 Japanese students enrolled, and I'm sure there are many more attending UC Merced.

Let's try to consider what this might be like if it happened here.

Hypothetically, what might Merced experience if we were situated on the coast?

Dr. Anne Newins, vice president of student personnel, offered this scenario to help us here in Merced realize the magnitude of the disaster last week.

She says, "The tsunami went about six miles inland. That would cover most of Merced. Imagine dazed, ordinary people trying to find their way out of buildings, looking for family members, shelter, food, etc. On top of this, they are in near-freezing weather. The stress and anxiety would be the same no matter where a person lives."

Newins and the International Students Office on campus work closely with Your English Services (Y.E.S.) ESL Inc. to assist with student recruiting. This office works closely with host families to provide homes for students while in school.

Newins explains, "We work with a number of schools, colleges, universities and agencies in Japan, mainly in the Tokyo/Osaka/Central Honshu area. Before this happened, we were expecting several new students from Sendai this summer, but do not know their status at this point. We have been able to re- establish communication with most of Japan, but the Sendai area remains difficult. No doubt many of the people have left the area, at least temporarily."

I spoke with two Japanese students and was deeply touched by what I was told.

Marina Kawashima is from Tokyo and Ruriya Hata is from Shiga. Both young women have been in Merced for more than a year, attending Merced College.

Marina's family in Tokyo experienced "a lot of shaking."

Both students expressed their worry when neither could get through to their families for the first two days after the quake.

Ruriya's family experienced "some shaking, some minor damage and minor injuries."

Both students confirmed that "everyone is scared."

Marina said, "Most areas are still out of power" to which Ruriya replies, "the food is going bad."

Ruriya said, "Japan continues to have quakes daily like a chain reaction, and seems to be moving further north." Marina explains, "We just want people to understand how scary this is."

Jonas Vangay, director of International Student Services at Merced College, together with the International Students Club started a fund drive on campus Tuesday.

Club members made gift bags where donations could be placed. These bags are housed in various offices throughout campus, including mine. The funds are collected and sent to the Japanese Red Cross.

The community can help, too. "We would appreciate any help we receive," says Vangay. "Please feel free to contact me at (209) 381-6404 for more information on how you can help our students and their families in Japan."

This disaster has hit home in Merced in many ways. I feel that in situations like these, no matter how far away the disaster, it's difficult not to feel affected in some way.

It is then that a person realizes how fragile this world is and how fragile the human life. It is then that we realize we are not so different.

Kristi Wolf is a full-time secretary and student at Merced College, majoring in administrative office management, with aspirations of being a writer.

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