Japanese student flies to PH just to help Sendong victims

Thea Alberto-Masakayan
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom

For Issey Tanaka, showing sympathy doesn't end in offering prayers or in a heartfelt expression of support.

Because for him, it means going where the tragedy is, despite the distance.

So he went all the way to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City from his homeland Japan to spend the holidays and spread cheer in Sendong-hit areas.

Tanaka, 20, embarked on this seemingly impossible mission to personally see the devastation Sendong brought so he could identify what he can do for the victims.

"I want to help people. I wanted to contribute and I want to promote to the Japanese people, let them know of what's going on in the Philippines," Tanaka told Yahoo! Southeast Asia in an interview.

With sheer will and some money from his supportive parents, Tanaka flew to PH. He tapped Xavier University which agreed to temporarily adopt him while doing his volunteer duties.

'Kuya Fish'

Like any other volunteer, Tanaka saw himself repacking and distributing goods for the evacuees. However, he knew that it was not enough.

"I saw that the people were lonely, bored. They had nothing to do in the center," said Tanaka.

Tanaka said most of the evacuees were also devastated after losing their homes, livelihood, even loved ones so he felt the need to provide a little entertainment, at least for the children.

While he thought of buying toys for Christmas, Tanaka was urged not to give away goods if he could not equally provide for everyone.

Instead, Tanaka learned "Budots" dance, a freestyle local dance injected with funny moves, to make children happy.

During the holidays, he also played 'Santa' to kids by providing them sodas and snacks.

"They will make a line and I would distribute food," said Tanaka, who also gave children footballs and basketballs for recreation.

He would also share stories with Sendong victims, making him more emotionally attached to the evacuees.

Tanaka grew closer to them that he was even given the monicker "fish," as people always mispronounce his name Issey as "Isda."

"I get more motivated. I got motivation to do some action in Japan," said Tanaka, although his  own country has yet to fully recover from the deadly quake last year.

Love for the Philippines

This is not Tanaka's first time to volunteer in the country.

In 2010, Tanaka also spent the holidays in the Philippines, in Olango island off Cebu where he taught English to locals and built houses and playgrounds.

Now, he wants to do more for Pinoys even if he is already back in Japan.

Among Tanaka's lofty goals is to get Japanese companies to sponsor a water purifying technology that will benefit areas most hit by typhoon Sendong.

Tanaka observed that floods contaminated water systems in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, making it hard for victims to get access to potable water.

Tanaka also fears the spread of leptospirosis, a disease widely associated with floods, so he will also tap companies who would be willing to donate medicine.

And for victims to recover faster, Tanaka also aims to get more help, manpower or in kind, to speed up reconstruction.

He would also search for companies who will sell handicraft goods from evacuees who would like to earn extra income.

"We can't just hand in money. This might help them recover and gain a new livelihood," Tanaka said.

Tanaka may be young and too idealistic but he is hopeful he will be able to execute his plans.

"My parents told me to spend or do something nobody can steal. This is something just like that," said Tanaka.