In July 2012, a very special letter was hand delivered, to Cathedral Pastor, Canon Clare Edwards, by Councillor Takeshi Suda, from the Japanese city of Sagamihara (相模原市).
The letter extends thanks and gratitude for the response and efforts that we made here at the Cathedral after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.
Takeshi’s nephew, Isamu Amir, was studying at the University of Kent when the earthquake, considered one of largest since seismological record keeping began, hit Japan. It was followed by a devastating tsunami and inflicted extensive damage and subsequent problems to four major nuclear power stations and left thousands dead.
Aware of the large number of Japanese students that live and study in Canterbury, the Cathedral set aside St Gregory’s Chapel and dedicated it to be a place for quiet prayer and reflection. Isamu and a friend visited the Cathedral three days after the event, “I was really impressed to see that the Cathedral had provided a memorial place for the earthquake victims” said Isamu; “being Japanese, I really appreciated your merciful action. When I told this story to my uncle, a city council member of Sagamihara city, he too was deeply moved. He expressed a desire to extend a letter of appreciation to the Cathedral and its community on behalf of the city of Sagamihara to tell of our gratitude”.
Takeshi and Isamu, were joined by his mother and aunt when they proudly handed the letter of thanks to Canon Clare, following Isamu’s graduation ceremony on July 10th.
“When we heard news of the tsunami in Japan, we responded as we always do in times of international disaster – setting up a chapel for people to come and pray” said Canon Clare. “Such events make us all aware of our common humanity and give us a desire to reach out with our love and prayers to those in need”.
In the days and weeks that followed, many came to sit in silence, to write their prayers and light a candle. Origami cranes were folded and left here by Japanese visitors; some of them like Isamu were students living here in Canterbury. “The lovingly folded paper cranes were symbols of love and care for those many miles away facing such terrible times. The tsunami is no longer in the headlines but many in the affected areas of Japan are still struggling to rebuild their lives, so it was a great honour to receive from Isamu and his family this message of thanks addressed to Archbishop Rowan. Like the cranes, the document is a work of art, the Japanese characters beautifully written with love and thanks to this community for the small yet significant part we were able to play”.
In the wake of the disaster, the Cathedral joined forces with the Rotary Club of Canterbury Sunrise and the Canterbury Christ Church University and raised over £6,000 for twelve ShelterBoxes to be flown to Japan. Each box contained lifesaving supplies including a family tent, cooking equipment, blankets and tool kits enough for 10 to 12 people.
The Cathedral enjoys a good relationship with the Japanese community and for the past ten years a Service of Reconciliation has been held annually. It is attended by both British and Japanese diplomats and members of the International friendship and Reconciliation Trust. We have also been improving relations with Zambia. Denise Pettit, a member of the congregation, recently returned to Zambia, her birthplace, and writes:
We have received a warm message of thanks from the SEKA theatre group in Eastern Zambia for the generous contribution to their work made by the members of the Cathedral community. When my mother Betty McCann, husband William, and I visited Zambia last year, we saw the educational outreach work of SEKA and resolved to help. The acronym SEKA stands for Sensitisation and Education through Kunda Arts; in the local language it also means ‘to laugh’. The company aims to improve the lives of the local people through theatre. Established by Miranda Rashid (granddaughter of the late conservationist Norman Carr) and Msatero Tembo, they use a unique combination of research and interactive theatre to address the important social and environmental issues facing local people. Their theatrical use of humour, visual imagery, puppets and local song and dance forms has earned them a reputation as an effective channel for the vocalising of community concerns. SEKA believes in changing circumstances by changing minds and changing minds through the arts – theatre and stories in particular.
In February 2012 Betty celebrated a significant birthday and asked for donations to the work of SEKA rather than presents. Later, Sarah and Ed Condry agreed to give half of the proceeds from their Lent lunches to the cause. So, through a number of happy social occasions in The Precincts, it has been possible to send £1,080 – enough to sponsor a new play which will address contemporary environmental and social issues in Zambia.
For more information about SEKA please visit www.seka-educational-theatre.com