Students build communication lifeline to Japan after quake

On Friday, March 11, Ayako Namura awoke to a dinner plate crashing in her kitchen. Before she could make the short journey to the kitchen of her Tokyo apartment to see what had happened, the earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan hit with full force.

“I was terrified,” Namura said. “We’re used to earthquakes in this city, but nothing has ever come close to this.”

An English as a Second Language teacher since 2004, Namura, 32, had been teaching English to Japanese students in Toronto. She returned home on March 10 for a brief visit with friends and family.

“I had just arrived and was trying to get some sleep before a full day of family activity,” Namura said in an interview last week. “Thankfully, all of my relatives are safe, but it was scary for a while.”

Namura managed to get a flight out of Tokyo soon after last Friday’s quake and subsequent tsunami. Back in Toronto, she has quickly set up an outreach program for Japanese students studying in the GTA through the Hansa Language Centre.

“The goal is to connect students with family back home,” she said. “Right now we have a few individuals who are having a great deal of difficulty contacting family who live in the northern regions of Japan, but thankfully we have a fantastic group of people on the ground who are doing their best to help.”

Namura has organized a small group of people to act as message “runners,” manually delivering messages to family members in cut-off areas of Japan.

Namura credits her brother, Hanso, for helping her establish a strong network of people working on the ground in Japan to get message out to families and friends overseas.

“He has been incredible through all of this,” she said. “He has helped me at the school in Toronto in the past, and he knew that the students here would want to contact their loved ones back home.”

Namura has turned her apartment in North York into a relief centre where she has set up a number of computers. The hope is that students can eventually connect with family in Japan, but Namura also wants them to know they have a place to come to, if they just want to talk.

“The computers are here for them to use whenever they need,” she said. “But the students need to know they’re not alone. This is a devastating time for Japan and the Japanese people, but together we are strong. We are here for each other.”