Until 2:45 p.m., March 11 seemed like any other day in Japan to John Andras Molnar ’09.
Molnar, an English teacher in Yamamoto Town, was relaxing in the faculty room when the school began to shake. For a second, he and the other teachers thought it was nothing. Then books, printers and supplies began falling off the shelves. They quickly took cover.
The 9.0 magnitude quake and the tsunami that followed devastated their town in Miyagi Prefecture on the northern Japanese coast. Both of the schools where Molnar teaches were badly damaged and seven students were lost in the tragedy.
Molnar is determined to help. He has enlisted the aid of the Central Bucks Rotary Club from his hometown in Pennsylvania and is also asking friends and family for contributions.
Molnar, who is in Yamamoto with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, volunteered at one of his schools in the week following the disaster. Then, fearing of the risks of continued radiation exposure, he gathered a few belongings and headed off for Sendai, the largest city in Miyagi Prefecture. He hitchhiked to the JET offices in Sendai City Hall, where he secured a seat on a bus chartered by the Australian Government for Tokyo.
There, Molnar has been working to establish a fund to rebuild the two damaged schools where he works. He is using his network of friends and family to spread the word about the immediate needs at the schools. Hoping to raise $20,000, he intends to use the money to buy supplies for the returning students, as well as support the rebuilding efforts.
“Keeping busy on that project has kept me grounded because, though I am not in my town physically, I still feel like I am contributing to its restoration,” he said.
The school is scheduled to reopen soon, and though he is unsure of how many students will be there, Molnar intends to be on hand to welcome them all. “I know that even though I have a lot of work and a lot of difficult times ahead, I am not alone,” he said. “Surviving has been difficult, but the real challenge that everyone faces is moving forward.”
He hails his fellow teachers as heroes. Though they did not know the state of their own homes and many were unable to account for their families, the staff quickly formed an emergency shelter and tended to the students. “Their dedication was truly selfless and overwhelming,” says Molnar.
Molnar says that the nuclear meltdown is one of the most difficult aspects of the tragedy to deal with. “Not knowing whether it is safe to go back to town, or even whether it is safe to go outside has been disorienting and frustrating,” he said.
For more information visit his blog at http://yamamoto-fund.blogspot.com.