Students, profs. raise money for Japan relief

by Amelia Acosta | 3/27/11 10:00pm

Spring break proved an organizational obstacle for Dartmouth's relief efforts in Japan following an 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a devastating 33-foot tsunami along the country's coastline on March 11, according to Mayuka Kowaguchi '11, a native of Yokohama, Japan, who is helping to organize the College's student relief efforts.

"Because of spring break, it was hard to mobilize as fast as the Haiti response," Kowaguchi said. "Now that people are getting back on campus and back on [email], we really need to finalize things."

Because of the severity of Japan's situation, it is difficult for organizations and individual Dartmouth students to know how best to target relief efforts, Kowaguchi said.

"The situation is that in Japan, all sorts of different organizations are doing different situation assessments," she said. "They don't know what is needed yet so we don't know how we can best respond."

Before spring break, the Dartmouth Japan Society raised $2,634.60 through student donations, according to co-president Christian Opperman '13. The money will go to the Japanese Red Cross, he said.

The College will help respond to the disaster by hosting six students from Brown University and one from Boston University who had planned to study abroad in Japan during the spring, The Washington Post reported.

Both Brown and Boston University decided to cancel their study abroad programs due to the dangers of the earthquake and tsunami aftermath, The Post reported. Dartmouth's strong Japanese language and literature programs, combined with an orientation program for students starting at the College at the beginning of each term, will benefit the visiting students, Lindsay Whaley, associate dean for international and interdisciplinary programs, said in an interview with The Post.

Whaley did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Dartmouth's schedule allows these students, who are too late to receive credit for the spring semester at their respective institutions, to receive a full term of credits, according to The Post.

Dartmouth students are also collaborating with the town of Hanover, the Japanese Red Cross, faculty, alumni and city officials in Hanover's sister city of Nihonmatsu, Japan, according to Kowaguchi.

"Everyone is wanting to do something and get involved, including the Inter-Community Council, the International Students Organization, the Dartmouth Japan Society, the Pan-Asian Council and Student Assembly," she said. "This will definitely be a community effort."

Nihonmatsu was not directly affected by the earthquake or tsunami, but currently serves as a temporary base for refugees, including those from towns closer to the potentially dangerous nuclear reactors, according to anthropology professor Christopher Ball, who specializes in Japan.

"The town is close enough that evacuees can be brought there, but not close enough that it is being evacuated itself," he said. "Because of the established partnership Hanover has with Nihonmatsu, we were able to put funds directly in a bank account in Japan, with the money going largely to the refugee effort."

Faculty members coordinated with the town of Hanover to organize fundraising efforts to benefit Nihonmatsu during the recent break, Ball said.

"We met with Julia Griffin, the Hanover town manager, to discuss how we could help Nihonmatsu," he said. "My wife is from Japan, and so are several of our friends and neighbors, so we used those connections to organize relief efforts."

Ball collaborated with the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen to arrange a benefit craft sale in from of Hanover's Town Hall the weekend of March 26. Artists donated ceramics, paintings and jewelry and the sale raised over $3,000, which was donated to Nihonmatsu, Ball said.

This term, the student body will focus efforts on donating to one specific organization rather than "a bunch of different non-governmental organizations," Kowaguchi said.

"The Dartmouth community is currently looking to fundraise for a project spearheaded by Clifford Bernstein '89, the president of the Dartmouth Club of Japan," Kowaguchi said. "The project provides temporary lodging in Hokkaido, Japan, for a thousand victims who have lost their homes in communities affected by the earthquake and tsunami."

Kowaguchi said she hopes the project will be adopted by the JEN, a federation of Japanese emergency non-governmental organizations, allowing students to donate directly to the project.

"We want to model the community response effort on the Haiti model, by coordinating a Dartmouth Japan response that will include the town of Hanover, alumni fundraising efforts, staff and students," she said. "I'm planning to organize the student response under the banner Students at Dartmouth for Japan, which will have its first meeting this Monday."

At the meeting, students will begin to determine which student organizations will be responsible for what aspects of fundraising, Kowaguchi said.

As Japan looks to rebuild, the Asian and Middle Eastern studies department is still scheduled to bring 20 students to Tokyo for a Japanese Language Study Abroad program this summer, Japanese professor Dennis Washburn, one of two faculty contacts for the study abroad trip, said in an email to The Dartmouth.

Japanese professor James Dorsey, who led the trip in the past, will accompany students on the program given the current situation in Japan, according to Ball.

"[Dorsey] wasn't planning on doing it himself, but because of the extra difficulties that come with the disaster, he will be leading the project," Ball said. "Part of the reason is that he really wants to keep that connection [with Kanda University of International Studies]."

Some Dartmouth students with family in Japan were impacted by the earthquake, according to Mikuni Toshiro, an exchange student from Tokyo.

"My family is from Tokyo, so they weren't directly affected by the crisis, but right after the earthquake I couldn't get in contact with any of them via phone or email, so it was pretty worrying," Toshiro said. "Here at Dartmouth, I saw lots of students in the [Dartmouth Japan Society] who were in the middle of finals, sitting for hours to collect money I was really impressed with that helpful spirit."