Shannon Porter knew she probably would not be able to make a trip to Japan in the wake of a massive earthquake and tsunami last month, but the Spokane Valley resident was still determined to do her part to help.
Each summer for the past 17 years, Porter and her family have volunteered with a program called Compass USA, hosting Japanese high school students who visit the United States as part of their study of American culture. For three weeks each July, students from cities across Japan are transplanted in the Inland Northwest, visiting local landmarks and practicing the English they have studied in their homeland for the past three years.
Reports of the damage and human loss from March 11 are still being updated each day. The latest estimates have the death toll at over 18,000 while some 452,000 are believed to be homeless. Meanwhile, food and water are at a premium in many parts of the country.
“Everything just came to a standstill,” Porter said. “It’s just breaking my heart to know that there are people over there stranded without food or water.”
Whether online or over the phone, Porter was able to communicate with several students in the days following the devastation. Fortunately, the news was good.
“I have spoken with a few of them and they’re OK,” Porter said. “They are a very resourceful people, but you can tell there’s a lot of worry.”
Last month, Porter and other host families decided to collaborate with the Spokane branch of the Red Cross to sponsor an event later this month intended to generate funds and awareness for the relief effort some 5,000 miles away.
The fundraiser is set for April 8-10 at the corner of Sprague and Sullivan in the Ace Hardware parking lot. There are plans to have both Japanese and American flags flying over the weekend as well as posters promoting the cause. Those who donate will be given a white ribbon with a red dot, symbolizing the flag of Japan.
“We’re calling it a ‘sit-out’ because we’re trying to raise money for the people in Japan who are sitting out in the cold without anything,” Porter said.
Other local efforts have included Evergreen Middle School in Spokane Valley collecting donations, the HUB Sports Center in Liberty Lake hosting a basketball fundraiser and St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute creating wristbands to generate money and awareness.
Precilia Patterson’s family has hosted Japanese students in Spokane Valley for the past three years. She said the experience of residing in the U.S. for close to a month provides a fun and educational overview of American life. Students visit sites like Riverfront Park and the Davenport Hotel, tour a Spokane Valley fire station and stop by Orchard Crest Retirement Center in Spokane Valley where they talk about traditions from their homeland such as using chopsticks at the dinner table.
“They really become like part of your family,” Patterson said.
Like Porter, Patterson made efforts to reach Japan after the earthquake. Subsequently, she heard stories of a depleted bottled water supply and residents being warned to stay inside because of possible radiation risks connected to a nuclear plant in the Tohoku region on the northeast coast of Japan where damage was the heaviest.
As for the event later this month, Patterson expressed hope it would remind local residents of the challenges still faced by those halfway across the world.
“It’s mostly about bringing awareness,” she said. “We’re very far away, but this is something we can do to have a little impact.”
Spokane Valley firefighter Darin Coldiron understands the importance of helping those impacted by calamities around the world. He visited Sri Lanka as part of the relief effort after the December 2004 tsunami and made a trip to Haiti last year in the wake of a devastating earthquake.
“I think it’s great that we have people in Spokane Valley who are trying to support people in Japan,” Coldiron said. “It’s just about making as positive a change as possible.”
Want to find out more?
The fundraiser for Japan will take place Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10, in the parking lot of the Ace Hardware store on the corner of Sprague and Sullivan in Spokane Valley. Times will be 11 a.m. to dark on Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 991-6064.