Charity Event for the Philippines Seeks to Aid, Interculturalize, and Build Community

written by Alexis Tai (茨城県)


Despite falling snow and icy roads on December 15, 2013, Inawashiro Mahabi-Ina in Fukushima hosted a Charity Event Skills Auction with thirty-three attendees, including six Japanese locals and four people from outer prefectures as far away as Yamanashi, who were gathered to share a traditional Philippine meal and offer their time, money, skills, and appetites to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan (“Yolanda” in the Philippines).

Snowfall in Inawashiro during the event.
Snowfall in Inawashiro during the event.

Erika Ehren and Russell Aquino, both 3rd year JETs in Fukushima and people of Filipino descent, spearheaded the event after learning the extent of the damage from the Category 5 Super Typhoon that struck the islands last November. Over 6,000 fatalities, 4 million displaced, and $35billion in damages resulted from this disaster.

“My heart hurt,” says Ehren of her reaction to the news in November. “I feel intrinsically connected to the Philippines and to know that so many people that I feel this connection to were suffering was really difficult for me to handle. And I felt really helpless. Anything I did, anything I wanted to do, I felt that it wasn’t enough.”

“We just wanted to get a group of people together and share a little bit about the Philippines…”

Filipino food prepared by the event organizers.
Filipino food prepared by the event organizers.

That’s when Aquino approached her with a proposal to make an event to help.  After a mere three weeks and a whirl-wind of organizing and preparation, with the help of their CIR Andrew, their plan to raise money for the Philippine Red Cross in the form of a lunch and skills auction came to fruition. A huge amount of interest from potential attendees forced a location change. Snow resulted in unrealized plans for Philippine dances and presentations and quizzes. But somehow the event transformed into much more than a way to donate to a cause; it became something educational, personal, and even community building.

“Sure we thought it would be great idea to be able to raise some money to send, but that became almost a secondary goal for us,” says Aquino. “We just wanted to get a group of people together and share a little bit about the Philippines. Like, you’ve heard about the devastation of the typhoon, but there really is more to the country than that, and here’s a little bit of it. So it became more of an interculturalization event.”

And Ehren and Aquino know something about interculturalization as North Americans of Filipino descent.

“I’m half,” explains Ehren. “I was born in the US but I’ve been to the Philippines I think 14 times—pretty much every other summer. I’ve experienced monsoons and flooding in Manila, and I know how bad that is there, and I just can’t even imagine what those people experienced after Typhoon Haiyan. It just felt very important to me to do something to help.”

Aquino, on the other hand, was actually born in the Philippines. “My family and I moved to Canada when I was 10 years old,” Aquino explains, “so I have a very vivid recollection of the Philippines and a strong tie to it. So when this event happened, I knew I had to do something, even if I didn’t know anybody in the affected region. I’m one of them.”

Just as Ehren and Aquino’s connection with the Philippines drove them to offer tangible, financial aid, their connection also drove their heart behind interculturalizing attendees at the event. There is little chance to learn about the Philippines in Japan, they explain, and in light of a disaster it might be easy to slate a group of people as victims. This was something Ehren and Aquino hoped to combat.

“If we could share even a little bit about the country that would allow people to move beyond totally having the image of the Philippines as a typhoon victim then I thought that would be a success,” says Aquino. “[Attendees] got to know the names of some of the food. They got to see the outfit that Erika was wearing, which was part of a traditional costume. And now they have an idea, yeah, Filipinos love mangos, hence the Philippine mango juice.”

IMG_2551“If we could share even a little bit about the country…that would be a success.”



The event also invited attendees to do more than merely become donors to a cause by asking what skills they personally had to offer. Attendees donated Japanese lessons, PowerPoint tutorials, artwork, and even their own hospitality as hosts for snowboarding weekends in Fukushima. They were creative in their giving, and playfully competitive in their desire to win even a box of Christmas cookies.

Aquino says, “Whether you attended as a contributor to the skills auction or a purchaser or even if you just attended and saw [the auction], and thought, ‘Oh what a great idea. Maybe I can take something of this and use it at another event’—it’s building community right there.”

The financial success of the event was in large part thanks to the ¥100,000 contribution from Eyes for Fukushima (E4F), a charity group that was established after the earthquake hit the Eastern coast of Japan. After the earthquake, the Filipino community put in a huge order for E4F’s fundraising T-shirts and supported their fundraising efforts. Ehren explains, “when they heard about our charity for the Philippines, they said that there was no question: ‘We are going to help you and give back to the Filipino community.’” (For more information about this charity, please see their website:

With their contribution, the event raised a net total of ¥295,400, allowing for a USD$3,000 donation to the Philippine Red Cross.

“To say that we were astonished at the amount of money that people gave, the generosity that they showed, would be an understatement,” Ehren explains of her feelings about the event. “Even days later, I can’t even believe how wonderful people were.”

“I want to say thank you to everyone who came to the event,” Aquino says in closing. “Yes, financially we are able to help. That’s wonderful. Yes we achieved our goal of cultural introduction to the Philippines in a small way. That’s wonderful. But in the end, it’s the fact that a lot of people came and a lot of people showed support. It makes the panicky moments, it makes the falling down in the snow moments, it makes the crazy drives and the having to stay up until 5 in the morning and wake up at 7, and smelling like fried food for two days—it makes all of that worth it just to see a whole community come together.” ◆

Russell Aquino and Erika Ehren.
Russell Aquino and Erika Ehren.

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