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Japanese native tries to help those in home country
Ogawa fashions fabric flowers to raise money for Japanese Red Cross
Masayo Ogawa is selling these homemade fabric hair bows and magnets to raise money for disaster relief in Japan. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

How to donate

To donate to Masayo Ogawa’s relief fund, which will be given to the Japanese Red Cross, or to buy one of her cloth flowers, visit the Family Life Center at the First Baptist Church at 751 Green St. NW in Gainesville. Donations will be taken through Saturday.

It's rare Masayo Ogawa's gets any phone calls before 7 a.m. But as she drove to work on the morning of March 11, her phone was ringing off the hook.

After a few ignored calls, she picked up. A friend on the other end told her an earthquake had hit Ogawa's native country of Japan.

"I went on the Internet and checked on it," said Ogawa, who came to Gainesville to attend Brenau University in 1989. "And then here they are, all these pictures and everything. I was just horrified."

She spent the day in a panic, checking the Web between every meeting. That night, she tried calling her parents in the costal city of Osaka.

"The phone line didn't work, and that just totally freaked me out," she said. "I'm like ‘This is not right.' And I just keep calling and calling."

Later that night, she was able to reach her parents and slowly over the next few days, more and more friends responded to her frantic emails. There's one person who she still hasn't been able to reach. But she's heard from others the friend is alive.

"I have one friend who lives within a 100-kilometer radius from the nuclear plant. I've been communicating with her by email," she said. "And she told me she has two little kids and she can't even go outside; she can't even open the windows because she's afraid of the children breathing in something."

On her living room coffee table is a magazine her parents sent her filled with images of the overwhelming destruction. Ogawa can't look at it too closely without breaking down.

"I really wanted to fly over there, and if I have to dig through the things I would," she said. "But we are so far away. I just can't do anything."

But Ogawa is doing something for her native country.

Many friends in Gainesville have asked her what is the best organization to donate to.

"Japanese Red Cross is the best way to go," she said. "But they can't go through the site because it's in Japanese. So I started thinking maybe I can go ahead and collect money and donate it for them."

To raise funds, Ogawa has been making delicate hand-sewn flowers attached to magnets or hair clips.

She put them out near a donation box at the First Baptist Church in Gainesville. There isn't a set price. If someone took a flower and dropped in 20 cents, she'd be happy.

The University of Georgia print, she said, has been a hot seller.

"I mean, it's not really perfect for hair," she said. "But they go so fast."

The flowers take time and care — cutting materials, folding and gluing individual petals and then sewing the piece together. And Ogawa has only completed about 70 or 80 of them. But the $50 she's raised, she said, is well worth the time.

It's not much. But it's a start and it's how she can play a small part in the relief effort.

"It's just a small thing. Losing sleep over making these flowers, it's not a big thing," she said. "Over there, they don't have anything. They lost everything and family members, too. They're really great people."

Ogawa plans to take donations at the church through Saturday and then send the funds to the Japanese Red Cross.

When she came to Gainesville in 1989, she had never planned to stay. Her parents thought she'd get homesick and they'd have to come pick her up. But that didn't happen. And Gainesville grew to become home.

But Ogawa now knows she can't forget her home country as it faces its greatest time of need.

"I can't just sit and do nothing," she said.

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