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BSU student helps home country

From right, Bemidji State University adjunct professor Mitch Berg, and professor Patrick Donnay purchase a "Help Japan" button for a fundraiser organized by international students and members of the Rotaract Club. From left are Ming Mun Chong, Shannon Wittner, Kay Yamagucni and Anna Schiller. Students are accepting donations to help earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today in BSU's lower Hobson Union. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Kay Yamaguchi, a fourth-year student at Bemidji State University, lives roughly 8,000 miles from her home in Japan.

But the distance has not stopped her from helping those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in her homeland.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today she and other students from BSU's Rotaract Club will be in the lower Hobson Memorial Student Union accepting donations to purchase aid boxes for families in Japan.

The students are asking for a minimum donation of $3, but additional donations are encouraged as the Bemidji Rotary Club will be match up to $1,000 collected this week.

On Friday, March 11, at roughly 3 p.m. in Japan, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck close to the northeast coast of Japan approximately 250 miles from Tokyo. The quake triggered a massive tsunami which swept inland near the city of Sendai.

Because the earthquake struck at around midnight in the United States, Yamaguchi did not hear of the earthquake until hours later, on Friday morning.

"I woke up in the morning and I heard about it from friends," she said. "They didn't know what really happened, just that there was a huge earthquake in Japan."

Having lived through multiple earthquakes in Japan, Yamaguchi said she was not as immediately concerned because she had not heard about the tsunami.

"I did not know how bad it was," she said. "We get earthquakes every month sometimes, but I did not know it would turn out to be so big."

Fortunately, Yamaguchi's parents and little brother were OK. They live in Kawasaki, Japan, which is located near Tokyo and away from where the tsunami did the most damage. However, Yamaguchi is worried the crippled nuclear power plants will pose serious health risks to her family.

Because the earthquake occurred during BSU's spring break, Yamaguchi did not see much reaction from many BSU students after the disaster occurred. She did, however, received emails, Facebook messages and phone calls from friends asking if her family was fine.

The week following the earthquake was the most nerve-wracking for Yamaguchi, she said, because of the potential damage to the nuclear power facilities.

"I was really scared," she said. "My family is still far from the area where it happened, but there was radiation being detected in the city where I have family living. They were saying (the nuclear reactors) might explode and melt down. That week after was really scary."

The idea to help people in Japan came to her not long after the disaster happened.

"On Facebook, I saw many of my friends from around the country were taking action," Yamaguchi said. "That inspired me. I wanted to help in some way."

Yamaguchi approached Patrick Donnay, professor of political science at BSU, and asked him what she could do to gather support from campus. Donnay directed her to connect with BSU's Rotaract Club, a branch of the Bemidji Rotary Club.

"Part of what made me want to help was her inspiration," Donnay said. "I got the sense that she saw her country devastated and wanted to do what she could to help her country."

Students in Rotaract Club, Yamaguchi and other international students from Japan put together a fundraising campaign at BSU called "Help Japan." They created flyers and designed red and white buttons with "Help Japan" on the front.

According to Rotaract Club President Nicole Weber, the Bemidji Rotary Club will match up to $1,000 of all donations received this week. In addition, an anonymous donor is matching up to $250 in donations.

"It's nice to see kids are dropping off what change they have in their pockets," Weber said standing near the donations booth Thursday in the student union. "Anyone can mail in donations to the Rotaract Club at any time and we'll still get it over there."

All of the money will go ShelterboxUSA, which responds to natural and manmade disasters by delivering boxes of aid to victims. Each box supplies up to 10 people with a tent and essential equipment to use while they are displaced and homeless.

"Thousands of people are affected by the earthquake," Yamaguchi said. "Many are living in school gyms, city halls and emergency shelters. Those people lost those houses after the tsunami and earthquake. Many of them lost everything they had."

Since the earthquake and tsunami occurred, Yamaguchi said she has been in contact with her family every day by e-mail. When power outages started to occur around parts of Japan, Yamaguchi said she was not able to talk to her family.

"In Tokyo and the city they live in, there are power outages to conserve electricity," Yamaguchi said. "But my family tries to send me emails every day because I told them to."

Majoring in international studies and political science double major, Yamaguchi plans to graduate from BSU in one year. She said she hopes maybe someday her family will be able to visit Bemidji to see her graduate. In the meantime she hopes they are staying safe in Japan and hopes the community of Bemidji will help the people of Japan.

"I think this is a cool idea," she said. "Each box will help one family survive."

Donations can also be sent to the BSU Rotaract Club, 1500 Birchmont Drive 31, Bemidji, MN 56601.