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Middle East Andrew Dispatch

One World, One Love: How a High School Girl from Japan Changed Turkey
March 21, 2000

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Some of you have written to us and asked what you personally can do to help the earthquake victims in Turkey. Here, I will tell you the story of one young woman and what she decided to do to help others. Her story is one of determination, courage, and resourcefulness. Mio Shindo was born on 13 September, 1981. She is a senior at Genyo High School in Fukaoka, Japan. I met her at an Internet cafe in the middle of Turkey. We had lunch together, and as we sat eating our soup, she told me about the amazing project that she'd masterminded, and was accomplishing. Like many of us, Mio read the newspapers in September 1999, and learned about Turkey suffering terrible earthquakes.

Unlike most of us, Mio decided to do something about it. Still in Japan, she telephoned all of the organizations that she could find, and offered to volunteer to help in any way she could. Every group she contacted told her that she was too young, since she was still 18 and in high school. She asked her teachers at school and they told her that she was too young and could not do much of anything, and besides, she had to concentrate on her schoolwork.

Not easily discouraged, Mio investigated further and discovered that the Japanese government had sent only one shipment of aid to Turkey. Then, they abandoned their efforts to assist Turkey when, closer to home, Taiwan suffered its own devastating earthquake not long after Turkey's catastrophe. So, Mio decided that she would have to find some other way to help the people in Turkey. By this point, I think that most of us would have given up. Mio, however, is not a quitter, and she kept her mind on her goal to help the earthquake victims.

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Mio has an uncle who sometimes does business in Turkey. She telephoned him and asked for advice. He also thought that she was a bit young to do any serious volunteering in Turkey. After all, Mio spoke no Turkish, did not have a plan, had almost no money, and, as everyone kept reminding her, was, "only a high school student". Still not discouraged, Mio convinced her uncle that she was serious and would not be put off. Sensing that she was adamant, her uncle suggested that she raise money for the victims of the earthquake and send it to them. But Mio argued, rightly, that the money sent to help is often used for other things. It's true that in this and many other places, money that is sent to help people often disappears into the pockets of the people in charge; this situation was certainly no exception. So how could she help?

Mio decided that she must go to Turkey herself and see that whatever money she could bring would go to those suffering. She was not to be discouraged, and as everyone saw that determination, she was finally given permission by her father and her school, although grudgingly.

Vocabulary

adamant - unyielding in attitude, stubborn.
initiative - to lead with action.
infectious - an influence or impulse passing from one to another.


She landed in Turkey and was met by a friend of her uncle, who she asked to take her to a camp for victims of the earthquake. She was instead taken to a college dormitory. Mio was not allowed to meet any of the earthquake victims nor given a chance to help them. She realized that once again, her efforts were not being taken seriously enough. She wanted to be in the tent cities that housed the earthquake victims, not in a comfortable dorm room doing nothing. The students with whom she was living had little interest in helping the earthquake victims, and Mio realized that she had to better define her mission. Arming herself with a Turkish/ Japanese dictionary, she wrote a letter to the mayor of the city, explaining her desire to live in a tent city with the victims, and to help in any way that she could. She was given a brief visit to a tent city, and returned to her dorm room. Was that it? She wanted to DO something for the people, not just look at them like they were part of some kind of show!

By this point, Mio had been in Turkey for a couple of weeks, and had already learned some Turkish (more than I can say for myself!) She decided to seek out help from within the country to accomplish her mission. She had visited some tent cities, but what did the people need? Mio wanted to bring them useful and practical things, but had no idea what that meant.

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Mio made a questionnaire (in Turkish!) asking people what would help them most. Then, she set out to find those items and personally deliver them to the victims. She made friends with some young Turks, and they helped her to go from store to store and get things like clothes and toiletries. After visiting five pharmacies, she told them what she was doing, and was given boxes of free medicines needed by the earthquake victims. Also, she collected blankets, food, money, and even toys for children, all from Turks who were more than willing to help the cause. None of this would have happened without Mio and her initiative and stubbornness (stubborn in the best sense of the word).

After Mio had gathered her supplies, everyone was willing to help her, to help their fellow countrymen. Mio found herself eating for free in restaurants, sleeping for free in youth hostels, going on free tours of the area--the bus company even transported all of the goods to the earthquake victims for free. Her spirit and generosity were infectious!

I will let Mio continue in her own words, I copied the following from an e-mail that she sent to me after she had returned to Japan:

Dear Andrew,

On the last Saturday of my stay in Turkey I went to Istanbul to look for office of Turkish Airline. Now I made the way to send something to the damaged area directly from Japan. Because I didn't want my activity over yet. There's no end. I felt it went really well. On Sunday morning I found one big bus sent by the mayor for me in front of the store. Some people helped me to get foods on the bus. Can you imagine bags of foods are sitting on all seats? I felt so happy and thanked my Japanese friends. There was the second earthquake there and I thought it's more necessary to give foods there than where I went last . We found places getting no foods. They were so pleased to have it. I saw a woman who cannot speak because of the shock of earthquake. Because my foods were short I couldn't give her foods but she thanked me. Though she doesn't speak we talked. I don't know why but I could understand what she wanted to say from studying her crying eyes. The building has broken. Two of her family died. She said so. I also cried much. On Monday because I had to go to Japan I got rid of my clean clothes from my bag and packed it in other bag. I went to the shop and showed all my money and the change of my school's money (it was about 300000TL) [That is about 80 cents] I asked them to make me buy some sweets for children in a campsite with all that money. They said," You can buy only two chocolates with this money. It's O.K. They will be pleased." I said. "Look, this is what you bought with all your money. And this is my gift for you." Saying so they put much sweets in the bag. I thanked well and put it in the bag with my clothes. I went to town hall to meet mayor to say good-bye. Because I had really no money and no clothes he suggested to give me some money. I asked to put that money in that bag and came back to Japan.

Soon after I got to Japan I went to school to thank and report what I did to all students in my school. They all welcomed me saying "Okaeri!!" (Welcome back!)"

In my opinion, Mio is one of the bravest, greatest people I have ever met. She did more than most of us would do to help people, even strangers, who are in trouble. She never gave up and she made a big difference to a lot of needy people. She did not let negative thinkers stand in the way of her desire to be of service. I asked her what advice she would give to young people around the world, and her advice is, "Don't be bi-standard (double-standard), treat everyone the same as you want or would like to be treated, don't treat different people differently."

I hope I can always remember her example.

Andrew

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...andrewcote@bigfoot.com
 



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