Help across the sea

Kayoko Watanabe

Photo By D. Brian BURGHART

The University of Nevada, Reno has a sizable population of Japanese students. When the recent tsunami and earthquake struck the country, they, like many of us, felt impotent and uncertain about how to help. Some went into action, deciding to form a group to collect money for victims of the natural disasters. It’s called Pacific Friends Fund. Kayoko, 24, has been in the United States for four years. She’s a senior who studies communications and international affairs. For more information about the Fund, check out

Tell me a little bit about your group.

We got together to start fundraising right after the tsunami and earthquake hit Japan. It was March 12. There are many Japanese students here, but we never get together. But this time, we have to. We have to do something for Japan, to support our home country. We started to organize this charity event. We had spring break last week. It was pretty much preparation time, to make sure we could start working legally. We felt really bad, there are many people who collect money, but just for themselves. We kind of recognized we had to protect ourselves to work legally. It was not really easy, but we have to do it anyway.

Wow, that came together really fast. So you’re officially a non-profit?

We are under “student” organization. We are trying to be a non-profit organization, but we still have to go through the step-by-step process. Now we are supported by Japanese Student Action at Work, which is a Japanese student organization, and it’s recognized by ASUN [the student government] here at this university. Later on, we are trying to collect money as one student organization.

What city are you from in Japan?

I’m from Sendai. I was raised and grew up in Sendai. My mom is actually from Miyagi Prefecture. Her original home got so damaged, it’s no longer livable anymore.

Do you mean the home or the city?

Her village was kind of OK, but there are bunch of people missing, close to her hometown. Actually, there is a Japanese student here. He just lost his house. There are a bunch of Japanese students—not just in Reno, but in the whole United States—who are still missing family and friends.

It sounds like you were a little more fortunate than many.

Yes, actually, but I cannot be happy completely. There are many students who are missing friends and family. That’s my home town, that’s my home country. There’s no reason not to work for that. We have to get together to help each other.

So how are the fundraising efforts going?

Today [March 21] is just the first day to collect money. We’re going to go through this activity for this week. In the long term, we’ll keep doing, using many kinds of social networking sites—Twitter, Facebook, we have a web site. As much as we can, we try to advertise our activities, on campus also, spread the fliers.