June 6, 2011
By CLARE MIERS
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Jersey Shore and seen reality star Nicole Polizzi, a.k.a. Snooki, unable to fill a waffle cone at an ice cream shop job, it might have left you wondering about today’s twenty-somethings.
People doing impressive things rarely snag a TV contract, but impressive people are out there.
Meet Yuri Kimura, 28, a second-year Ph.D. candidate studying vertebrate paleontology at SMU.
On March 11, she was in Dallas Skyping with her mother, who was in Kawasaki City in Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo. Suddenly, her mom said that the earth started to shake harder than she had ever felt it move.
“The earthquake cut off the line for a moment,” Kimura says. “I did not know why.
“In a moment, she called me back. A kitchen shelf had come down and her voice was shaking. She was crying and screaming. She said, ‘Yuri, I’m safe. I’m safe. Don’t worry.’”
Imagine being on the line with the closest person in your life as the Richter scale hits 9.0. Her mother, in the crisis, was tending to her daughter’s fears over her own.
“I stayed up all night that night, sitting in front of my laptop to figure out what happened in Tohoku,” Kimura says. “Little information was available and I was scared. I searched for latest information by typing lots of keywords and clicking many media websites. It was already 5 a.m. in the morning when I finally got exhausted and went to sleep.”
Coming to Dallas from Japan was a major transition for Kimura. The disaster made her feel even farther from home. She emailed friends all night to check on them, and used Facebook and Mixi (Japan’s social networking system).
Kimura was shocked by the tsunami aftermath. Photographs on the Internet broke her heart. She felt the burden of not being there to help.
“It could have easily happened to me. I belong to the country,” she says.
Kimura found a way to turn her grief into action.
She created a T-shirt fundraising campaign that would raise money for earthquake relief and help educate students who had never experienced an earthquake.
“Because I am a geology major, specifically vertebrate paleontology, the second goal was very important,” Kimura says.
She worked with the Japanese Association at Southern Methodist University, which was founded just after the earthquake to help with relief efforts.
Kimura came up with the message “Live with nature and recover from disaster” to go on the T-shirts. The shirts also show Mount Fuji and a crane, both symbols of Japan, as well as a big wave.
The shirts have been selling for $20, with proceeds going to Japan for immediate aid. She has a few shirts left and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“To be honest, I am not the kind of person who is into volunteering,” Kimura says. “The earthquake crisis led me to this activity. It was really, really difficult at the beginning because JASMU was such an immature group and we did not have any funds to make T-shirts.”
She contacted several Japanese companies for support but was turned down. Her SMU adviser, Dr. Louis L. Jacobs, suggested that Kimura contact Allyson Bradley at Half Price Books in Dallas. The next day, Kimura had her sponsorship. After that, others supported her along the way.
Kimura organized lectures with other guest speakers and talked about earthquake drills in Japan. In these presentations, this petite, soft-spoken young woman speaks of the massive loss of life and then points to her own family’s survival kits. The PowerPoint title on the large screen says, “If Earthquake hit, my Family’s Case.” She explains that everyone in her family has a backpack kit under their beds.
Kimura has raised more than $10,000. Later this month, she will send her collections to the American Red Cross.
She says she was touched by Dallasites’ sympathy and compassion for the earthquake and tsunami victims.
Dr. Charles Wood, a professor at SMU, sent one of the shirts to his daughter in Tokyo. She posed for a photo in front of the Great Buddha in Kamakura, Kanagawa.
“What I have received in my heart through this process is worth far more than the numerical value of the funding I am sending to help those in Japan,” she says. “The people I have met through this process were so warm and full of heart.”
Kimura will finish her studies in 2014 and return to Japan. She hopes to organize an international symposium there in conjunction with SMU. An unshakable bridge between two countries, she will continue to be an exceptional liaison.
Clare Miers is a Dallas freelance writer.
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