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Hey guys, remember last month? When it was Christmas? Well, thanks to many of you, 76 Japanese kids who live at the Bikou-En orphanage will always remember this past Christmas because you sent them gifts. These are the same kids you generously helped out, as a part of Operation Airlift Japan, after the tsunami and earthquake a few years ago.
Now that all the gifts have arrived in Japan, I have an update from the woman who started our relationship with Bikou-En, Gemini Sanford, who personally delivered a van full of wrapped presents to the orphanage.
"We went out there on January 1st, when they were still in their New Year celebration. New Year, here in Japan, is celebrated a lot like Christmas in the States. It's their biggest holiday of the year, the kids all get presents. So it actually worked out really well! It looked like we were celebrating for them. It was perfect timing."
Each kid asked for one special gift, but because of your generosity they ended up with a whole lot more.
"I would say every kid got at least three to four gifts," said Gemini from her home on the military base in Misawa, Japan. "The things that they want are really, 'I want a pillow.' 'I want some socks.' 'I'd like some makeup.' You know, these really little things. They got everything on their list but I think the spirit of generosity overtook them because I did not see kids getting any less than four gifts each."
Issaquah's Kate Stone has two 8 year old daughters who wanted to buy gifts for two Japanese girls. She says her daughters completely surprised her when they offered to use the money from their piggy banks.
"So we get down to Fred Meyer and they'd schemed about it," Kate said. "They both had $5 from their piggy banks and they wanted to get something special. I matched it. They had $5 and I gave them each $5. They filled the stockings up with a yo-yo, bracelets, two little stuffed animal sock monkeys, bouncy balls, jump ropes."
That was on top of the gifts the girls at the orphanage had asked for. Kate says including her daughters in the process was a big learning experience.
"They kept asking, 'Did their parents die in the earthquake? Did their parents die in the tsunami? Are they sisters? Do they have sisters and brothers in the orphanage?' They're very curious about what an orphanage is like. They really don't have any concept of what it is like. The biggest thing is, they wanted to know if they have families? They wanted to know, 'Can we adopt them?' I'm like, I can't adopt them."
Japan doesn't allow foreigners to adopt, but adoption also isn't engrained into Japanese culture. So the reality is that all of these kids will likely live at this orphanage until they're 18. Which is why Gemini says these gifts mean so much.
"They want something special and they want something that's their own," Gemini said. "Japan, in itself, is a real community based culture where you're always willing to sacrifice for the greater good of someone else. So while they have all these things, they don't necessarily have their own pillow or their own special blanket. Just maybe being able to have one or two things that they don't have to share. That they will share because they're awesome like that, but that they know is there's. That they can take with them when they leave."
The government offers no financial support to any of the nine orphanages in the area. Bikou-En is run by a Buddhist monastery, that contributes some money, but 80% of the funding comes from public donations. Unfortunately the orphanage has lost a lot of those donations since the tsunami.
"The donations have still dropped more than 40%. So we had this thing where their donations had dropped to basically nothing. So they're slowly getting back up to speed, but it's still less than 40% of where they were before the tsunami."
The sweet man who runs the orphanage, Goto Sensei, who Ron and I met when we visited back in 2011, made sure to tell the kids that all the gifts came from Seattle, the same people who sent them clothing, blankets and food after the tsunami.
"The best part of [when Goto Sensei gave the kids their gifts] was when he just said, 'You know, Ron and Don in Seattle love you forever!' And they were like, 'Awwww!' It's pretty cool, it's pretty neat. And [the orphanage staff] make sure that the kids know where all this love and all this support is coming from."