As a foreign exchange student, one of the primary reasons Aoi Yokomori, of Yokohama, Japan, is at Soldotna High School this year is to work on her English. Since March 11, her vocabulary has expanded to new terms she wasn't expecting to have to learn in context of her homeland -- earthquake, wave, electricity, nuclear power plant, radiation, Red Cross, revival, fundraising.
When the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resultant tidal wave hit her homeland March 11, Aoi was already cut off from her family and friends through distance. With disruptions to the power supply in Japan, she was suddenly cut off from communication, as well.
"I didn't see it by my eyes what happened, so I'm worried. When the earthquake happen I couldn't talk because the power is all gone, but later I talked to them and emailed them and they are OK," Aoi said of her family.
Yokohama is protected from tsunami waves and out of range of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, but the community was not spared from damage from the quake. Aoi's family lives on the 10th floor of an apartment building.
"The shaking is a lot. So my room is really messy, Mom says," Aoi said.
"They also have not enough food, not enough water, not enough electricity. It's also hard to get there. The store, stuff is all gone from everyone wanting to buy food. We can't get enough power so trains can't run," she said.
Aoi spends her sixth period as an aide to school counselor Sara Moore, and expressed her concern for her country and a desire to help.
"They need more help for everything. I can't go there but I can send money to them. So I'm thinking, 'What I can do?' So I can collect money," Aoi said.
Moore contacted the Red Cross of Alaska and organized for Aoi to do a fundraising drive in Soldotna and to donate the money to the Red Cross, designated for relief efforts in Japan.
"When she came to me, being so far away from home you feel pretty helpless when your family is going through something. And I think she just felt like she really wanted to do something to help out," Moore said.
Aoi is the only exchange student from Japan on the central Kenai Peninsula this year, but said other Japanese exchange students throughout the United States connect through Facebook, and they are raising money to donate to Japan relief efforts, as well.
"All exchange students from Japan collect donations, that live in all the states. They are doing really well so I want to help, too," she said.
With the help of fellow exchange students and others at the school, Aoi has posters hung up around SoHi advertising the donations drive and has a collections can at the office.
She's even had to face her fear of public speaking to go to advisory classes to tell them about the drive and collect donations. She carries a piece of notebook paper with vocabulary she needs for her presentations -- earthquake, electricity, revival.
"My English not good, I don't like talking!" she said, laughing and burying her face in her hands.
But it has been worth the effort. So far she's raised more than $300.
"I'm so happy everyone helps and is worried about Japan," she said.
The drive at SoHi will continue through April, and Moore said they are thinking of ways to expand it to the community, as well. Anyone wanting to donate can do so at the SoHi office, or contact Moore at the school with fundraising suggestions.
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