The past 10 days have been the hardest of Tomoko Deguchi's eight years in Rock Hill as a Winthrop University music professor. She is so far from the Japan of her birth and any ability to help her people who have lost so much. Deguchi, from Kobe, lived through the 1995 earthquake that left more than 6,000 dead around southern Japan.
She has seen what earthquakes do, the fear and the death, and she knows how many months and years it takes to rebuild shattered lives.
And now there is the concern over potential radioactivity from a Japanese nuclear plant that is as much a part of life in Japan now as sunrise and sunset.
Deguchi has been in contact with her sister and parents in Japan - "all are fine," she said - but her heart is in Japan. The devastation is so bad that Deguchi has watched little TV news or other video coverage online because it is too painful.
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"The radiation concern has people worried," Deguchi said. "I am sure that the Japanese government is doing all they can do, but the devastation is just horrible. It is just so heartbreaking."
Deguchi has talked with people on the phone and by computer who have told her of continued problems with running water and electricity that has people who used to be strangers in Japan opening their doors to others for showers, food, and more.
"People pitching in to help others, that is what people are doing over there," Deguchi said.
A classical pianist, Deguchi has a contemporary group with Charlotte area musicians called the Out of Bounds Ensemble, and is considering a benefit show to raise money for aid to Japan as early as next month.
That sense of pitching in is not shared just by Japanese people. At least two area groups with no ties to Japan other than a willingness to help have organized fundraisers for this week to benefit the American Red Cross and its efforts to help the Japanese.
A group of musicians from Rock Hill and Charlotte will hold a "Jazz for Japan" fundraiser Sunday at Tropical Escape restaurant in Rock Hill. Similar to jazz events after Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake last year in Haiti that raised thousands of dollars, "celebrity" waiters will feed people while musicians play - with a percentage of the proceeds going to the Red Cross.
And Friday at Sugar Creek Elementary School in Fort Mill, the student body of about 740 kids will pay at least $1 apiece for the right to wear a sports team shirt to school in "Jerseys for Japan" day. The parent-teacher organization and the kids raised more than $1,000 for the Red Cross last year with a similar "Hats for Haiti" fundraiser.
"What happened in Japan is horrible, yet this gives even the youngest students a way to help and for all of us to be a part of a larger effort to help people in their time of need," said Jennifer Rossi, community outreach chair of the Sugar Creek parent-teacher organization.
Last year, people from York, Chester and Lancaster counties donated more than $100,000 to Haiti through the Red Cross locally, said executive director Rebecca Melton, with tens of thousands more donated directly online. So far in the past 10 days, locals have donated more than $10,000 to Japan through the Red Cross, with additional online donations, Melton said.
That spirit of people in schools, musicians - regular people with giving hearts - trying to find ways to help the Japanese people has been evident for Deguchi since the earthquake and tsunami hit. Her faculty peers at the school, her students, even casual acquaintances have asked her how her family and friends and her country are doing, and how to help. Those inquiries and those donations from musicians to kindergarteners make a huge difference, she said.
"I am sure that each person in Japan is thankful for all that others are doing for them," Deguchi said. "The recovery is a long way from over."
Want to help?
The "Jazz for Japan" dinner fundraiser is 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Tropical Escape Cafe, 564 N. Anderson Road, Rock Hill. For information call 803-366-3888, or 803-230-1967.
Several local personalities and public officials, including state Sen. Wes Hayes, Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun, Herald publisher Debbie Abels and Herald columnist Andrew Dys will serve as waiters.
The Jerseys for Japan fundraiser at Sugar Creek Elementary School is Friday. To donate call the school at 803-835-0150.
To donate directly to Japan aid through the American Red Cross call 803-329-6575; write to 200 Piedmont Boulevard, Rock Hill, S.C. 29732; text 90999; or go to redcross.org.
Have a local Japan fundraising effort?