Volunteering in Tohoku
At first glance, it might be hard to see what a person whose specialities are comic story-telling and balloon art could possibly do to contribute to the relief and recovery of the Tohoku area in the wake of the devastation left by the tsunami triggered by the Great Northeastern Japan Earthquake of March 2011. But while others sifted the rubble and cleared the debris, Diane brought invaluable psychological help, hope and healing to the people, particularly children and elderly people, who were living in difficult conditions in the many evacuation shelters.
On her first trip to the area, in the surreal landscape of endless grey mud, Diane’s bright costumes and colourful balloon sculptures made her a Pied Piper to the children of the area. She conducted balloon demonstrations and workshops in the local shelters and made and gave away balloon sculptures in the streets. Children were given a welcome respite from the stresses of their daily lives, had a chance to play together and had their imaginations fired by this blonde, blue-eyed woman who spoke Japanese and conjured up objects of delight.
On her second trip, she began to also perform Rakugo stories, particularly for senior citizens, with whom the form is well-known, loved and nostalgic of times past. Her performances brought laughter and relief. Diane was a welcome new face at a time when movement was limited by the huge damage to the local infrastructure. Meeting and talking with Diane after the shows gave people a focal point for communication with fellow evacuees and engendered a sense of community.