AFS student to talk about tsunami


Leo Sakuma, an AFS student studing at Plymouth High School this school year, will give a presentation at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, about the earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. — Photo by Clare Sedlacek. Leo Sakuma, an AFS student studing at Plymouth High School this school year, will give a presentation at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, about the earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. — Photo by Clare Sedlacek. Leo Sakuma wants to express his gratitude to the people of Plymouth.

“Thank you for the rescue missions and the food and water,” said Leo, an AFS foreign-exchange student from Japan studying at Plymouth High School this school year.

He will give a presentation for the public about the earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. His presentation will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 11 - the third anniversary of the disaster - in the Amphitheatre at the school, 125 Highland Ave.

The presentation will include video and photos taken during the disaster, as well as Leo’s memories of that day and the following weeks.

Leo is from Kashima, Japan, one of the most heavily damaged cities. One of the three major earthquakes that day was the largest to hit Japan ever, according to Wikipedia. The earthquakes triggered a tsunami, and together are blamed for more than 15,000 deaths as well as nuclear accidents in what became the costliest natural disaster in world history.

Leo, now 16, was 13 when the disaster struck. He was in school at the time, and remembers going outside with his classmates after the first earthquake to seek safety on the school soccer field. The sky was orange and gray, a sign that steelworks along the coast had exploded.

Leo eventually made his way home, but his parents weren’t there yet. His father was at work at Nippon Steel; and his mother, who had been at a meeting in a severely damaged area but was able to flee in her car, went to pick up his younger brother from his school.

Leo remembers trees and tow- ers were down everywhere, and the neighbor’s house was tilted. When Leo’s family entered their house, they found their belongings thrown everywhere. Leo’s father came home just long enough to pack a bag, then returned to work , where he stayed for the next two weeks.

There was no water at home - and wouldn’t be for two weeks - but they did have power. They could watch television and listen to the radio, so they were able to monitor what was happening in their area as well as to the north, where relatives lived.

Leo’s family did not need gas for heat, but those who did had to wait three weeks for it to be restored. so residents could not leave the city or go shopping unless they walked. Leo’s family was able to get water and food at city hall.

Recovery took a long time, and things are still not back to normal. School resumed after a month. His father’s steelworks was running again after three months and much reconstruction. Some stores didn’t reopen for six months. Repairs to the family home - the roof was damaged and the floor of Leo’s room was uneven - were completed after a year. But a friend of Leo’s lives in a house that still has slanted floors, in an area where the roads are still wavy.

Fortunately, no one in Leo’s family was hurt and they didn’t lose anything in the tsunami, because their house was at a higher altitude.

Some of Leo’s friends do not talk about the disaster, because it is too traumatic. However, he wants to share the story with the Plymouth community so he can say thanks. He remembers seeing a U.S. Army soldier helping as part of a the Tomodachi (“Friendship”) rescue effort, and he wants people here to know how much he appreciates the donations from the United States.

Additional AFS students to talk about homelands

Plymouth High School AFS foreign exchange students will be sharing information about their home countries during the third in a series of presentations for the public.

The next presentation will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, March 16 at Generations, 1500 Douglas Drive, Plymouth. Several students will talk about their home countries, followed by time for questions and mingling. The final presentation is set for Sunday, April 6.

Presenters will be:

ยท Anne Aziz of Egypt

ยท Cecilia Consalvo of Italy

The Plymouth High School AFS chapter is one of the most active in the state, hosting 42 students since 2008-09. AFS, a partnership of volunteer-based nonprofit organizations fostering intercultural engagement, named PHS one of its 100 Top Schools in 2012-13 and again in 2013-14, and co-coordinator Ann Weeden was one of four volunteers recognized for her work with the Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program.

PHS is hosting 13 foreignexchange students this year, 11 of them through AFS. They represent the countries of Chile, Egypt, Italy, France, Norway, Germany, Dominican Republic, Russia, Japan, Spain and Turkey. There are representatives from all three sponsored AFS programs: Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program for students from countries with significant Muslim populations; Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program for students from the countries of the former Soviet Union; and Congress-Bundestag for students from Germany.

Principal Jennifer Rauscher recently received a letter from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, thanking the school for hosting exchange students. “Your school is our partner in global diplomacy,” reads the letter dated Jan. 23. “Through partnerships with schools such as yours across the country, we create long-lasting ties that lead to greater understanding and peaceful relations between the United States and countries around the world.


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