NAJC President’s Message – June 2020

by Lorene Oikawa

Across Canada, and in Europe, people bang pots and pans, clap and cheer in the early evening. It’s a new tradition to cheer for workers on the frontlines. It started as a way to recognize the wonderful workers in the hospitals who are on a shift change, but now you see signage and messages on social media that recognize the many frontline workers who are providing essential services during this COVID-19 pandemic.

The NAJC National Executive Board (NEB), like all of you, are dealing with challenges to survive these trying times and still keep up with our volunteer commitments. We also applaud all the frontline workers and recognize the value of the work. Some of us on the NEB are also providing essential services.

Kiyoshi Dembo, a member of the NEB and chair of the NAJC Membership Committee, works in Toronto for Momji Health Care Society’s supportive housing which has about 150 tenants. Since the pandemic was declared, new duties include lobby screening and temperature checks for visitors, daily security checks on the phone for English and Japanese speaking tenants, grocery shopping and delivery of Western and Japanese food for tenants and community clients, and sorting lunch and dinner for tenants. Kiyoshi shared that he is not allowed to work with about 50 frail Japanese Canadian seniors in the long-term care setting so he has started face-time or other video chats with the residents, working with the facility activation staff or volunteer coordinator. No gatherings are allowed so community zoom chats have been implemented in Oakville and will be extended to other areas. Kiyoshi says, “These are my duties right now. Very stressful. Many concerns for the seniors’ well-being, and physical and mental health.”

Another member of the NEB is Alex Miki, who is the chair of the NAJC Young Leaders Committee. She is a gosei, fifth generation Japanese Canadian, who lives in Winnipeg. Alex is a lab assistant at an environmental testing lab (ALS environmental). Alex says, “I work in the microbiology department where I test the drinking water for the province as well as various food samples.” Alex’s work is vital to ensure the province’s drinking water and food supply is safe. 

The NAJC Executive Director Kevin Okabe, together with his wife Naoko Maebashi, operate three businesses in the Canadian Rockies. Two of their businesses shut down due to COVID-19. Kevin says, “In a small community like Kananaskis, where the closest grocery store is a good 60 kilometres away, maintaining the operation of our local convenience store/deli was critical to meet the needs of the local residents. With residents fearful of introducing community spread to a concentrated locale, our weekly trips to town to bring back essentials was a welcome service for our village, especially when the mountain parks were shut down. Now that the parks are open again, operations are starting to gear up again.”

While many people could switch to online services or had supports, many of the most vulnerable in our society were without resources. In British Columbia, government social services offices have remained open with limited staff to serve those in need. I supervise a district office in the Metro Vancouver area. We’re at the office so we can assist people in poverty including the homeless, and workers in precarious work who suddenly found themselves without work and not eligible for the federal supports. 

Besides the challenges of the work we do, sometimes it’s the hours and schedules and reduced availability of services we need that mean our evenings and weekends are tied up running errands, getting groceries, helping our family/neighbours, and also fitting in our volunteer commitments. We do the work we do because we see the value. We appreciate the thanks, and we ask that everyone be patient, be kind, and please be safe. Also, let’s continue to be united in speaking out against hate and standing up to racist acts. 

As more provinces are looking at re-opening, please follow the rules of social/physical distancing, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, cough/sneeze into tissues/your arm, and please do not go out if you are sick. We have to be cautious or else we could face a devastating second wave. 

We know it’s been a challenge to connect during this pandemic and the National Association of Japanese Canadians has responded with an increase in our online programming. Thank you to those of you who have already joined in our virtual “chat” sessions with some of our community members. To make it easier to find our programming, we’ve set up a new website. To find our programming go to najc.ca/online-programs/ We will post our upcoming events, events where you can meet us, and also, our member organizations’ online events. Sign up for NAJC e-news at http://najc.ca/subscribe/ to get updates on our programming and also check for updates and news at our website najc.ca There are many commemorative days to check out this month and one in particular is June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day. More info is at https://bit.ly/3bWZCeN

The NAJC National Executive Board thanks you for your continued support and please keep safe.  

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