U.S., British teachers help evacuees in tsunami-hit Iwate shelter

Three teachers of English from the United States and Britain have earned the thanks of evacuees at a shelter in tsunami-ravaged Iwate Prefecture in northeastern Japan after deciding to stay in the area to offer their help.

The three men’s relatives in their own countries suggested they leave Japan home but they chose to work at a shelter in the village of Tanohata, helping to move things and cook meals for several hundred evacuees, because they like the community.

Victor Kochaphum, 29, from the United States, was an assistant teacher of English at the elementary and junior high schools in Tanohata.

He felt the impact of the powerful March 11 earthquake shortly after having lunch in the nearby city of Miyako together with his countryman Kevin Blake, 33, and Paul Dixon, 24, from Britain. Blake and Dixon are assistant high school teachers of English in the city.

The three evacuated to a friend’s place but while watching TV news about the massive damage to the local community they felt they should do something to help people affected by the disaster.

Seiko Ogata, 60, a cooking instructor at the shelter’s kitchen, expressed her thanks for the trio’s contribution. “It is a tough job to make meals for several hundred evacuees. They are really helpful as they hold the heavy pans and pots for me.”

“Teacher Victor!” cried Ryosei Saito, 13, from the Tanohata junior high school, rushing to greet him at the shelter. “I was worried about you as I heard you had gone to Miyako. I’m glad to see you again.”

“I’m relieved to see one of my students,” Kochaphum said.

It is not known when the schools will start again. Blake said in fluent Japanese, “The community is firm and the whole town is like a family. I want to stay here and am ready to do my utmost to help people.”