|Minami Endo, left, and Ryohei Tsuge organized a Hope for Japan exhibition at Okanagan College to commemorate the second anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011, killing thousands.|
Three million victims displaced by the earthquake and tsunami are still living in shelters and only half the damage has been cleaned up or repaired, said Minami Endo, 21. The Japanese student at Okanagan College is afraid memories are fading when people need help.
"Old victims say they don't want us to forget this disaster. They don't want it to be in the past. We want people to still remember."
The catastrophe inspired Endo, a business student who has lived in Kelowna for three years, to start Hope for Japan, a charity that has donated $20,000 to the Red Cross by selling T-shirts, holding bake sales and raising donations.
On Monday, she and Ryohei Tsuge organized a display at the college to remind students people are still suffering. Misinformation about how dangerous the country is hasn't helped. Most areas are safe, including Tokyo, Hokkaido Island and many places in the north where damage was the heaviest, Endo said.
"We still need people to help us. We're still cleaning up and rebuilding . . . We encourage people to visit and increase tourism because people have lost their jobs. The economy was bad. Now it's getting better."
Officials say 18,877 people are dead or missing after the disaster. The magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the east coast was the worst on record to hit Japan. It triggered powerful waves up to 40 metres high that travelled as far as 10 kilometres inland.
The tsunami caused dangerous meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima nuclear complex, and forced hundreds of thousands of residents to evacuate. It sparked numerous demonstrations against nuclear energy. Two nuclear plants now operate in the country.
Hideki Ito, a high-ranking Japanese diplomat, was touring the Okanagan when the earthquake struck.
"We can construct buildings in a good manner, but in terms of tsunamis, we can't do anything," he said at the time.
Ito lived through many earthquakes. He recalled learning as a child how to duck under school desks and mattresses in case the roof fell in.
"You have to cover your head," he said. "We are trained."
Earthquake drills have intensified since the March 11, 2011, disaster, said Endo. People working in tall buildings as well as schoolchildren practise evacuations regularly.
Meanwhile, the gritty cleanup continues.
"Japan is really small. The government is trying to figure out where to dispose of the rubble and debris," Endo said. "We want the Japanese government to do more, and college people to go visit Japan."
About 20 Japanese students attend Okanagan College in Kelowna. Thirty people organized Monday's exhibition.