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Sister, Sister

nwws2Santa Cruz reaches out with aid for its sister city in Japan

When Alan Hiromura’s sister died from a particularly aggressive case of leukemia in December 2008, he searched for a way to commemorate her life. His opportunity eventually arose with another sister in need.

 

The small Japanese city of Shingu has been a “sister city” to Santa Cruz since 1971. The city has a population of 30,000 people and, not unlike Santa Cruz, is nestled between mountains and the Pacific Ocean. These city-to-city relationships give people in both locations an “opportunity to build friendships, learn about other cultures, and foster international understanding,” according to the Sister Cities Committee mission statement. This affiliation has included student, business, and mayoral delegations between Santa Cruz and Shingu, as well as assistance when either city is in need.

Disaster struck Shingu in September 2011 when Typhoon Talas stalled for five days over the Kumano River that runs through the city. Receiving 90 inches of rain (or three-fourths of Shingu’s yearly rainfall) in the five days, the city had to cope with the destruction of roads, bridges, and buildings as a result of flooding and mudslides. Thirteen people lost their lives in the wake of the typhoon and more than 500 residents lost their homes and personal property. The damage completely cut off power and outside communication for more than a week. Shingu media reported that Talas was the worst typhoon to hit the city in 20,000 years. The damages would be insurmountable without outside assistance. Santa Cruz residents have raised $17,000 for their sister city, yet there are areas that still need assistance.

Hiromura has a more intimate connection to Shingu than most, which may explain his generous $10,000 donation toward relief efforts. As a former member of the Shingu subdivision of the Sister Cities Committee, Hiromura has also been on a number of delegation trips to the city. “Shingu had a need and I had the funds available,” Hiromura says. “I’ve met and know a lot of the people from Shingu, and when I heard about the disaster, I thought [my donation] would be a good way to help our sister city and also to remember my [own] sister by.” Hiromura explains that although his sister had no ties to Shingu, his donation would serve to honor her memory while helping those who need it most.

The donations collected locally will be put toward “reconstruction and support of victims of the typhoon who demonstrate hardship,” says Wayne Nash, the International Relations and Promotion Liaison for the Shingu Sister City Committee. Hiromura’s $10,000 is going specifically to the reconstruction of a Kyoiku Gakusha, a nonprofit learning center and school that teaches its visitors (young, old, urban, and rural) about the lifestyle and means of self sufficient organic agriculture. Typhoon Talas submerged their facilities under six feet of water, and although the main structure of the building was mostly salvageable, the floors, walls, and most equipment were badly damaged.

Before the disaster, Kyoiku Gakusha ran a natural bakery and café on the weekends to earn some revenue for the center. Now, with their fields in ruins and stone oven for baking bread completely dismantled by the floods, the cafe is not open to bring in any revenue to assist in financing the repairs. It is Hiromura’s interest in the school’s work and their similarities to Santa Cruz that prompted his donation to the school in particular. His $10,000 donation in his sister’s memory will not only jumpstart the repairs in Kyoiku Gakusha, but also contribute to the first stages of a return to normalcy for the center’s patrons.

Santa Cruz organizers do not expect that everyone can afford to donate $10,000 to this cause, but say that every little bit helps. Nash adds that donations are tax deductable and are sure to get to the people that need them. “If funds come through the Shingu Sister City we can direct [them] to people who need help and have strong relationships with people in Santa Cruz,” he says.

For those for whom monetary donations are not an option, he says there are also other ways to get involved. “People hit by disasters of any kind often need more than just financial support,” says Nash. “Mental and emotional support is also important and even people with no money can show support for Shingu in that way.”

As for Hiromura’s donation to Kyoiku Gakusha, Nash points to the alignment between the school’s aim to teach about organic self-sufficiency and Santa Cruz’s well-known support for organic agriculture and education. This is just one of the many similarities between Shingu and Santa Cruz, and perhaps is what makes these sister cities so closely tied.

“It is really a magical experience,” remarks Hiromura when describing his time in Shingu and his motivations for donating relief funds. “It’s magical because the people are just so warm and friendly, willing to give themselves to explain about the culture, to contribute with visitors. Their eagerness to share is really heartwarming.”

For more information please visit cityofsantacruz.com or contact Roxi Goin at 427-1715.

Photo: Wayne Nash

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