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Letters of hope to Japan

Kylie Loo and Binita Siemens, Grade 12 students at Burnaby Mountain secondary school, check the well wishes written on a Canadian flag by students in their Japanese class to victims of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The class has also written letters to youth in the disaster zone. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Kylie Loo and Binita Siemens, Grade 12 students at Burnaby Mountain secondary school, check the well wishes written on a Canadian flag by students in their Japanese class to victims of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The class has also written letters to youth in the disaster zone.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Burnaby high school students are sending messages of hope to victims of the recent disaster in Japan while also raising money for relief efforts.

Japanese language students at Burnaby Mountain secondary have sent more than 70 letters of encouragement to Hope Letters, an Ottawa-based volunteer effort aimed at helping those affected by last month’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in a non-monetary way.

Also participating are students at Burnaby Central secondary. Former Burnaby resident David Chan, founder of Hope Letters (www.hopeletters.org), said already about 3,000 letters have been submitted from around the world, including 80 schools across North America.

The letters will be translated into Japanese then posted at evacuation centres in the affected region and online, as well as distributed to schools, to be read by those coping with the aftermath of the tragedy.

Sachiko Renovich, Japanese language teacher at Burnaby Mountain, said she showed news footage of the disaster and discussed it in her classes. 

“It was quite hard, emotionally it has a strong impact on them,” she said of her students. “They do want to reach out in some way.”

She heard of the letter-writing project from a network of Japanese-language teachers in B.C. and it seemed like a good way for her students to help.

“It’s showing their caring in a way they can actually personally express.”

While some students added phrases in Japanese to their letters, they were written in English since what they wanted to express was beyond their level in the language, Renovich said.

While at first news of the disaster seemed very distant, “when you hear other countries experience it you feel sadness for their country, and you think about your own security,” said Grade 12 student Kylie Loo, 17.

“It feels close because we’re learning their language and culture,” added classmate Binita Siemens, 17.

The students had the option of writing to students and children or to relief workers. Both chose the latter.

“They are working so hard to put Japan back on its feet, it takes a lot of courage for them,” said Loo.

Renovich said the letter-writing is just one of the many projects being taken on at the school, including fundraising for both the Canadian Red Cross and the Tohoku International Clinic. The latter has provided aid and counselling in the past as part of humanitarian relief efforts elsewhere around the world but this time finds itself among  victims of the massive earthquake, she said.

So far, Burnaby Mountain has raised $2,300, with some students donating birthday and Christmas money and earnings from part-time jobs. The pre-employment class at the school donated proceeds from its coffee cart sales, and the Urban Farmers club plans to contribute the proceeds from sales of the herbs they’ve grown. Other clubs have collected donations or are still discussing ways to raise money and awareness.

“The school has really pulled together,” Renovich said.

 

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

 

 

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