Relief efforts came pouring into Japan this time last year, after the powerful earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the country’s northeast triggered the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years.
The first anniversary of the devastating event is a tragic reminder of what the Japanese went through – even from as far as Trail, where a 20-year relationship has kept the city connected to sister city, Sagamihara.
“Many people in Trail and Warfield have family-type relationships with these people,” said Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs. “Certainly our city has done the best we can within the financial limits we have to continue the relationship.”
To represent one dollar for each of the approximate 8,000 residents of Trail, the city donated $8,000 last year to Sagamihara, the Japanese city 40 kilometres south of Tokyo, with Trail Operations matching these funds.
This gesture was done without question, said Bogs, noting the bond between the two communities has grown strong since a relationship was originally established in 1991 with the neighbouring community of Tsukui, which is now a suburb of Sagamihara.
Described as a friendship that promotes cultural diversity and economic opportunities, the sister cities participate in resident exchanges where the host city looks after the visitors with a place to sleep, meals and recreational activities.
A trip for local students aged 13 to 16 was cancelled last year along with a city officials exchange because Sagamihara was putting all of its efforts into relief.
“They were living on limited supplies and they did not want to seem like they were spending money on something that might be perceived as being frivolous when their country was in such dire need,” explained Rodlie, who co-organizers the Trail program with Diana Gonzalez.
“Of course nobody knew what was happening with that nuclear plant and how dangerous it was or how much radioactive material was leaking so parents from here didn’t want to risk sending their kids over there.”
But this year is shaping up to be different with the city expecting a couple visits from dignitaries this year, former Mayor Amato of Tsukui potentially coming in May, and a trip planned for Greater Trail teens scheduled for this fall.
Rodlie and Gonzalez are holding a meeting March 28 at the aquatic centre at 7 p.m., where students interested in attending the trip planned for Sept.12-24 can find out more information.
Participants pay $1,870 for their flights but host families – who also show visitors popular sights like Mount Fuji, Tokyo Disneyland and local markets – open their homes free of charge.
The tourists get a real taste of culture when they learn Japanese calligraphy, origami, suit up in a kimono and participate in a traditional tea ceremony.
“It’s amazing,” said Rodlie. “This has been over 20 years we’ve been doing this and I’ve lost count of how many kids have come and gone.”
While a trip to Trail has encouraged Japanese students visiting to develop their English even further, landing more opportunity and a brighter future out of high school, local kids have also returned to Japanese to teach English and pursued international dreams.
“I think it really puts the travel bug into our kids and it opens their minds,” said Rodlie. “I’ve seen quite a difference in some of the kids that have gone and it’s really changed their lives. Kids that have their heads stuck in a video game, suddenly discover there is a whole world out there that is much more interesting.”
Those interested in finding out more about the student trip may contact Rodlie at 368-9227 or Gonzalez at 367-7325