June 10, 2011

Academic counselor brings message of hope to disaster victims in Japan

For the countless victims of the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that occurred in Japan last March, a small amount of hope can go a long way.

Linda Ando

Linda Ando

“Ive always respected and valued Tibetan prayer flags,” Ando said. “In the devastated tsunami and earthquake region, we hope that our prayer flags of hope will bless the people and land as the wind blows.”

The idea to create the flags followed her involvement as a member of the volunteer board for the local group, Artists for Japan. Just a few weeks after the earthquake and tsunami hit, Artists for Japan held a two-day art sale at the KOBO at Higo gallery and store in the International District that featured donated works from approximately 150 local artists. Hundreds of people turned out and waited in the rain just for a chance to buy a piece of artwork with all proceeds going to the Red Cross to help Japans relief efforts. The event raised $94,000.

Linda Ando visits with one of the many evacuees and the director of the sports facility used for the shelter in Fukushima.

Linda Ando visits with one of the many evacuees and the director of the sports facility used for the shelter in Fukushima.

Ando was planning to mail the flags to Sekiguchis relatives in Japan until she met a local director with the American Red Cross while volunteering at another relief event. She received contact information for Ryan Okamoto, deputy director for general planning and coordination with Japan Red Cross. After a few Skype meetings with him, Okamoto arranged for her to visit the Fukushima shelter on Monday, May 9.

Ando had already planned to accompany her mother on a trip to Japan and was able to arrange the visit to the shelter during that time. She witnessed the effects of the disasters first-hand when she toured the sports arena filled with cardboard boxes serving as makeshift living quarters for hundreds of people displaced by the disasters. Ando, who speaks Japanese, was able to converse with residents.

Issaquah Valley Elementary School students Jaden Sekiguchi, left, and Reya Sytsma.

Issaquah Valley Elementary School students Jaden Sekiguchi, left, and Reya Sytsma.

Andos visit to the shelter was covered by a local Japanese newspaper and the article portrayed a similar message of informing the people within that region that they are not alone and not forgotten. While Ando brought a message of hope to the people of Japan from Seattle, in turn she hopes to spread a different message back to the United States.

“The area impacted is devastated and they will need help for a long, long time,” Ando said. “But the other side is you can help by still visiting. Dont cancel your trips or business ventures in Japan. It was a little shocking to see all the foreigners gone in Tokyo and other regions not affected by the earthquake and tsunami. People can still go overseas to teach, to study abroad. This is where our global consciousness and global responsibility come in. Disasters give humanity an opportunity to step in and help one another because when it happens to them, it happens to all of us.”

Hiroya and Sakuko Oda of Sendai, Japan, display their Prayer Flags of Hope from Seattle.

Hiroya and Sakuko Oda of Sendai, Japan, display their Prayer Flags of Hope from Seattle.

Following her visit to the shelter, Ando personally delivered flags to Sekiguchis aunt and uncle in Sendai and she continues to be involved in further relief efforts. “Artists for Japan” will hold three fundraisers this summer at the KOBO at Higo gallery and store to benefit Japanese organizations.

The Tanabata “Star Festival” event will be held on June 18 from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will include an art auction, evening jam fest with several musicians and an activity to create messages of hope for children of the devastated Tohoku region in Japan. One-hundred percent of the proceeds will benefit the Ashinaga Foundation, which provides support for the education of children who lost parents or guardians in the earthquake and tsunami.

Additional fundraisers will be held to benefit Japans Environmental Energy Industry Research Institute (July 16) and the NGO Collaboration Center (August 20). Event times and details are still to be determined.

“Its compassion in action,” Ando said. “I really believe in that. We have compassion, but to move it into action is so important.”

More information about Artists for Japan can be found on its website.