Friday, June 24, 2011

Thank-You Party For The ASEAN Caravaners

"The Caravan has been celebrated in history, 
in literature, film and song. "

Donraja Retnam
ASEAN Secretariat officer


A dinner reception was hosted for the ASEAN Caravan volunteers on the same evening, after our mud digging and food handout activity in the day time. What we weren't told earlier was that we would be joined by another thirty volunteers or so, comprising of Japanese and international students who had come under the "Gakuvo" program by the Nippon Foundation. Familiar faces were spotted among the Gakuvo volunteers in the ball room, as we did the mud digging together at Meiyukan.

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The ball room is ready to welcome the volunteers, after a long day of hard work.

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There was a big buffet spread for the over 130 people there.

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The early birds who were at the ball room. We went around to take photos while waiting for the rest to arrive. 

Besides the ASEAN Caravan and Gakuvo volunteers, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the ASEAN General Secretary and Mr Sasakawa Yohei, chairman of the Nippon Foundation joined us at the dinner reception too. There were also a group of special guests - seven survivors from the Kobe earthquake in 1995, who wanted to share their experiences with members of our group.

Dr. Surin started the night by giving an inspiring welcome remarks. He stressed that no level of prosperity or political stability or security can shield us against such unpredictable power of mother nature. Therefore, ASEAN has to be also a centrality of compassion and a fountain of goodwill. ASEAN also has to reach out, not only to reap benefits from the extended network of friendship, but we must also exert ourselves to embrace others in need of warm embrace and genuine sentiment of care and compassion.

Just like the last two lines of the ASEAN anthem - "We dare to dream, we care to share, for it's the way of ASEAN!", ASEAN aspires not only to contribute to the global economic and economic and political community, but also to be an active member of a global humanitarian alliance.

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Dr. Surin invited one of his assistants, Lia to go up the stage and sing the ASEAN anthem together. He reminded us we'd better learn up this song, 
or else we will have to swim back home haha!

ASEAN has been through a similar fate before in 2004. Back then, Japan has been one of the earliest nation to offer their help to ASEAN. That is why ASEAN and Japan Foreign Ministers endorsed this initiative so that ASEAN people able to hold hands and look into the eyes of the survivors in Miyagi and the community along the northeastern coastline of 300 kilometers, and tell then gently that we are sorry for what has happened. We just wanted to return the generosity and goodwill of the Japanese by being a part of this powerful gesture of ASEAN, to show that we care.

Even though there are only 72 of us representing the ASEAN community, cosisting of over 600 million people, I believe that message has been delivered clearly and strongly more than any amount of donations we have made so far.

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Next up was Mr Sasakawa, who was accompanied by his translator, Kana Hirano as most of the ASEAN Caravan members do not understand Japanese.

Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, told us he was excited to see such a huge group of young people in the hall because whenever he give speech, more often that not his audiences come from the older generation. He gets inspired whenever he meets young people and could go on talking endlessly, which was exactly what he did when everyone was already hungry after a hard day's work haha! Without any script, he provided inspirational words to the young audience.

One consequence of the 2011 tsunami, according to Mr. Sasakawa, is that young people are increasingly turning to marriage as they do not want to be alone when such a disaster strikes again. They want to be with a companion, especially if they have to face such life-threatening situations.

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Mutiara, who represented the ASEAN volunteers receiving the certificates from Dr. Surin and Mr. Sasakawa.

Then, came another surprise. A couple of surprises actually. The first surprise was from the ASEAN Secretariat, represented by Dr. Surin who offered a donation amounting US$12,000 to the Nippon Foundation for the tsunami victims.

The second surprise was from the Nippon Foundation, which was to be given to each participants of the ASEAN volunteers. Each of us received a certificate of participation, in recognition of our voluntary work in Ishinomaki. I bet none of us expected that when we submitted our names to participate in this program. However, I also believe that it was not that certificate that motivated us to volunteer, instead it was our pure intentions to help the tsunami victims that prompted us to join this program.

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The seven survivors from the Kobe earthquake in 1995.

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One of them, grabbed the microphone from the MC and told everyone she had something she really wanna tell us - she felt really thankful for all our efforts, 
despite our short time there.

The greatest gift that the participants of this Caravan had gotten, the young especially, is the opportunity of doing something for a higher cause. We have been made aware of the reality in the disaster-stricken area and also be known of the value of goodwill activities. These kind of messages are important, as it will give us a sense of "bonding" as humans. Human to human relationship is not measured with material things we share, instead with pure intentions of helping each other. We cannot measure this kind of relationship with monetary value, yet it is profound and necessary.

Throughout the three days, I believe most of us were had not have proper sleep, however our heart is warm with satisfaction. I am very certain that our lives have been enriched, and for some, it was a life-changing experience, a precious gift that you cannot trade it with any currency.

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Su and Khin, in their beautiful dress, gave a beautiful and vibrant traditional Burmese dance.

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Phallaep with another amazing traditional dance, this time from Cambodia.

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Ronnel Del Rio from the Philippines, performing some oldies.

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Pancake gave a wonderful sing and dance routine with the Phuket and Pang-Nga tsunami survivors. With a sudden burst of hidden wild energy, 
they provided great support in the background.  

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Worawit with his pole chair dance. It was a spontaneous and unpractised performance by him, who regularly dances at the bars in Phuket.

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"Come to me babe!" Some guys were screaming for his room numbers while he performed his dance lol!

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Famous Padi bassist Rindra and Derby took their turns to sing.

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Dr. Surin and Mr. Sasakawa were inspired to join in the dancing as well, to the tune of the famous Indonesian mass folk dance 
originated from Minahasa, North Sulawesi - Poco Poco.

Although people like Padi and Derby are a household name in their country, their down-to-earth attitude prompted them to spare some time to be involved in such noble mission, as part of what they call it Musician Social Responsibilities (MSR). That to me, is something very sweet as they are still aware of their social responsibilities despite their popularity. In fact, during the three-day, they blended into the team very well, mixed and communicated with all just like any other volunteers; nobody, even me, could tell that they are artists.

Many others took their turns to sing and dance, with songs and dances all "Made in ASEAN!" Two fun filled hours of revelry ended with Derby and Padi singer Fadly and bassist Rindra got everyone to join in the singing to the song, "We Are The World". It was a night of enchantment and how we wished it could last longer. However, the night had to end early because the hall was booked only for two hours.

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A special video clip - "Thai For Japan" by Thongchai McIntyre to offer support to the tsunami victims in Tohoku. I saw few of the earthquake survivors 
shed tears when they saw this video.

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With Dr. Surin. I cannot remember how many times I had photos taken with him in just a day, but on each time, he would say "Yes! Sure, no problem!"

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Malaysians representatives with Mr. Sasakawa and his translator.

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Myanmar team with Mr. Sasakawa.

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With one of the staff from the Nippon Foundation and Su and Khin from Myanmar.

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Phalleap from Cambodia.

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Pancake! She is quite tall, I tell 'ya.

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Vicky from the Nippon Foundation and Mr Raja from the ASEAN Secretariat.

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Makoto-san from the Nippon Foundation, who did an interview with us on the first day, and the two sisters from the Philippines.

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Vicky and Mr Raja plus a few volunteers, including Bruno from Brazil. I teased him by asking him if he is good in football, in which he replied me with a smile haha!

I would like to quote Mr Raja, who put up a great summary to sum up this Caravan. 

"The Caravan has been celebrated in history in literature, film and song. It connected Europe and Asia by land and sea with silk and spices. This modern day Caravan by air and land, bringing not goods to trade but cheer and support, has connected the hearts of people in Sendai and ASEAN. We should add this human spirit to the connectivity that the politicians and bureaucrats want to promote."

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Indonesian team, led by Adelina.

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The Thai survivors and their new-found Japanese friends.

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The two sisters again. They were born in the Philippines but was brought up in Japan, which is why their Japanese is perfect.

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Group photo of the five Malaysians who were involved in the Caravan - Fairus, Amy, Ellaine, and Azizul.

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More people joined in our group, and they are from Cambodia and Singapore.

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The photo-taking session just wouldn't end. For every few steps we took, we would stop for photos haha!.

Although we had to bid farewell to everyone on the next day, we knew that we have only just started, not ended, a great voyage of great importance, with young passengers who hold only a shovel in one hand, sincerity in the other and music in their hearts to make Sendai, Asia and indeed the world a better place.

To make sure that the spirit of togetherness is still intact among us, we now keep in touch with everyone through a Facebook group we set up right after the Caravan. I have to say that I am impressed that everyone is cooperative enough to make it an active group as there are updates almost on a daily basis. Dr. Surin must be proud of us if he sees that haha! And how nice would it be if one day, we manage to do a reunion gathering.

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The whole group was too huge to fit in, therefore we divided it into two big groups. This one is the volunteers and survivors who flew in from ASEAN countries.

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This one are the volunteers comprising of ASEAN students currently studying in Japan.

In my personal perspective, my participation in this ASEAN Caravan of Goodwill had given myself a great opportunity to have a self-reflection on a nation where its values, norms and principles has shaped myself for the past four years plus, into who I am today.

I was not in Japan on the day the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. But I was determined to return to Japan, to give something back, no matter how little it might be, to this beautiful country for all it has given me all these years. I might not mentioned it before, but my application for this event was initially rejected because there were no more vacancies available. However, by a twist of luck, one of the participants pulled out and I was pulled in as one of the representatives from Malaysia. 

It was a blessing for me that I managed to have this rare chance to interact with the tsunami survivors in Ishinomaki. As of one the seventy-two participants of ASEAN Youth Caravan of Goodwill, I took value and precious lessons from this wonderful journey. I hope and believe that a togetherness and harmony will grow between ASEAN and Japan. Japan, you are not alone!

"Ganbare Nippon!"

Related entry: Part 1: ASEAN Youth Caravan of Goodwill
Related entry: Part 2: Dorokaki At Meiyukan Of Ishinomaki
Related entry: Part 3: Takidashi For Tsunami Victims In Ishinomaki
Related entry: Part 5: A Short Trip To Matsushima

4 comments:

Tempus said...

kewlness beyond reach! haha you are so gonna be bugged 24/7 if i get this government scholarship!

calvin said...

@ tempus:
haha! what's there in me for you to bug me? xD

Tempus said...

too many to list di.

calvin said...

@ tempus:
but anything surely has to begin with the very first step. so, what's the first thing you guess you gonna bug me on? :P