By Rachel Belle
The thing that Ron & I have been looking forward to most about this trip, was visiting Bikou-en Orphanage to meet 70 of the kids who received toys, food, clothes and blankets from The Ron & Don Nation.
The orphanage is about a 45 minute drive from Misawa and we drove through beautful little rural farm towns, passing bright green rice patties and fields of corn. When we arrived, a few cute little kids had their faces pressed to the windows to say hello. I know a little bit of Japanese, so I was able to ask for their names and the staff helped me ask them other simple questions.
The orphanage director, Goto Sensei, gave Ron and I a tour of the building and we were relieved to see what a nice place it was. The littlest girls sleep on futons in pink painted rooms and the teenagers get more space and sleep in bunk beds with anime posters and Japanese pop stars on their walls.
You can tell right away that the care workers, like Koji Yoshida - obviously care a lot about these kids.
"I'm 44-years-old so every children is like my kids! Many kids!"
After the tour, the kids all gathered in the lunchroom to pick out two toys from a huge stack of your donations. They were so excited! A couple little girls got princess costumes, a little boy looked stunned to get a brand new soccer ball and I helped a gregarious little girl open a pack of musical instruments so we could play them together.
You probably remember Gemini Sanford: she's the Misawa Navy wife who used to live in Everett and who inspired Operation Airlift Japan. She had been volunteering at the orphanage for months, and after the tsunami hit she started bringing them food and supplies from her own stash. Now they have full cupboards, thanks to your donations. Operation Airlift Japan supplies was divided amongst 9 orphanages and there was still lots more to give.
"The other stuff is going to an operation called Hope Japan," says Sanford. "Hope Japan is actually down south of Sendai, where people are still living in shelters. They feed anywhere between 100 to 800 people a day so a lot of the food is going down to help them."
It's been exactly four months to the day since the earthquake and tsunami hit but Gemini said your donations are still very much needed.
"As far as people being concerned about it not being needed or wanted: Recovery is a process, so all of these people that are still living in shelters down south and that are still searching for their families, I think there's still a lot of need in a lot of places. I think there will still be a lot of need a year from now. I see everything being used, everything being utilized, and I don't see anything being wasted. I see the gratitude and the love of these people."
Gemini admits that she and Goto Sensei were compltely overwhelmed by how much stuff they recieved, and sorting through the donations was emotional at times.
"There were a lot of tears from a lot of volunteers, even some of those rough Airforce and Navy guys. There was a little teddy bear in there that had a note attached that said 'This was our favorite bear and we loved him very much, but we want to give him to you now so please make sure he has a good home.'"
The orphanage is home to kids from 3 to 17-years old and I loved these kids! They were so sweet and well behaved and smiley. They were shy at first, but after a little while they warmed up and wanted to talk and play.
When we drove away, after lunch, little girls in their brand new Disney princess costumes stood in the windows and waved goodbye.
A little video of me playing with my new friend.