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Stories of Hope

March 5, 2013

It is a cold winter in Japan this year. We look forward to spring, which is about the time this letter will get to you! In the spirit of Easter, let me share a few heart-warming stories of hope! 

The first story is from the hotline and counseling service at the Kyoto YWCA that I helped to start 22 years ago. Many of our clients are foreign women married to Japanese men and we see many cases of domestic violence. I want to share the story of Carissa. She came to Japan in 1990 as an entertainer and worked as a dancer at a club in Nara. There she met a Japanese man whom she married and with whom she had four children. However, just a few years into the marriage, the domestic violence began. Her husband not only beat her but abused her emotionally by deriding her, and kept her confined at home (giving her just enough allowance to buy food for the family and not allowing her to go to church on Sundays where she could meet other Filipinos). He also became involved with another Filipino woman, leaving her alone with the children. Her life was miserable and she did not know where to go for help, but one day, she heard about the YWCA hotline and made the call that was the first step in turning her life around. With the help of our staff and volunteers, she moved with her children into a shelter, and eventually got a divorce. She is now a single mother, working several jobs. One of her jobs is working as a chef at our church’s coffee house ministry, the Bazaar Café, which I have written about in previous letters. She also volunteers at the YWCA as an interpreter for Filipino clients and is a leader in her Catholic church. She says, “When I was in the depths of despair and even wanted to die, there were people that gave me hope. I want to now give back and bring hope to people.” Carissa is an inspiration for all of us.

The second story is from Fukushima. After the earthquake and nuclear disaster two years ago, as with many Japanese residents in Fukushima, there were many foreign residents who were unclear about the health risks of the nuclear radiation. The Japanese government was slow to provide necessary information and has been less than forthcoming about the level of contamination. Residents of Fukushima have organized in a variety of ways to obtain information on how to protect their children from the nuclear hazards.  Some residents have moved away from Fukushima, and started anew in other parts of Japan. Those that have stayed are learning survival skills to continue to live in Fukushima. The Aizu Wakamatsu Church (in Fukushima prefecture) and the Emmaus Center in Sendai are two places where people can go to get free testing of nuclear radiation. People bring food, breast milk, and urine to be tested.

Catherine Goto, a Filipino woman has lived in Fukushima for over 20 years with her Japanese husband and three children. Her life changed drastically after the earthquake and nuclear disaster. Fukushima city is not in the evacuation zone that the government ordered. But experts say the nuclear contamination is high enough to affect children’s health. Catherine has organized a support group for Filipinos living in Fukushima. She networks with other concerned Japanese residents and translates that information for Filipinos. She volunteers to take food or breast milk to get it tested for possible contamination.  Unemployment is also an issue, with many small businesses taking a hit after the earthquake. Often it is the foreign residents that are the first to be laid off. Her organization, named “Hawak Kamay”, (which means to join hands) is providing support in a variety of ways for Filipinos living in the area.

May God bless the work of these two Filipino women in Japan. Two faithful women who are reaching out to bring hope in times of despair.

In the hope that Easter brings,

Martha Mensendiek

Martha serves at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan through the Council on Cooperative Mission.  Martha is a Teacher of social welfare.

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