Tuesday, October 23, 2012

100 Bridges of Hope

Executive by darmansjah

At 2.46pm, Japan Standard Time, on the 11th of March 2011, the ground shook and the ocean reared up as a magnituted 9.0 earthquake and resultant tsunami tore across the north-eastern coast of Japan’s Honshu island. In Tohoku, already less-visited than her more glamorous sister-regions in southern Honshu and north in Hokkaido, the nuclear emergency was one more setback that set the tourism economy reeling. The ripple effect from the disaster was only just beginning.

More than 6,000 kilometers away in Singapore, watching the tragedy unfold, was 22-year-old Singapore Management University student Yee Jiun Hee, being so far away, he was not sure how else he could help beyond the cursory monetary donations.

His chance to do a little more came in August 2011, less than six months after the disaster when he applied for a seat on the Singapore Youth Ambassador for Tohoku Project. Organized by the Japan National Tourism (JNTO), the project aimed to bring 100 Singapore university students right to the heart of Tohoku Japan, the epicenter of the tragedy. Their role as ambassadors was to bring home the message that Japan was on her feet, rebuilding and that it was safe for visitors.

Over six days, Jiun Hee and his peers saw firsthand the rebuilding of the affected areas, volunteered in the clean-up efforts,  made new friends, participated in Tohoku’s famously colorful summer festivals and got a dose of Japanese culture for good measure.

The Youth Ambassador to Tohoku trip coincided with the famous Sendai Tanabata Festival. Despite the grim reality of destruction and on-going re-construction efforts, the Japanese decided to go ahead with the Tanabata Festival, known to be one of the highlights in the summer festival circuits in Japan. In addition to having iconic floral balls and beautifully-presented paper decorations line the streets as well as colorful street parade, the Tanabata Festival is traditionally a time when good wishes are written on slips of paper, pinned to willow and hung all over the city. Needless to say, the students left many hand-written heartfelt wishes for Tohoku’s speedy recovery!

So while the tsunami swept away many bridges, and destroyed many lives, a hundred new bridges were formed by the Youth Ambassador for Tohoku Project, with these students building a foundation of hope, friendship and understanding that would take more than a tsunami to shake.

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