Jakarta, 31 May 2011

N110531

With only three days to go, the ASEAN Caravan of Goodwill volunteers are all set for their mission – doing their best to lift the spirits of their Japanese friends who were affected by the earthquake and tsunami last March. Their enthusiasm was evident at a press conference held at the ASEAN Secretariat today. They were joined by Dr Surin Pitsuwan, and three Indonesian musicians and a representative from their label Sony Music Indonesia, who will all participate in the Caravan to Japan this Thursday.

The volunteers were making last minute preparations – practising their performances, packing necessities for their trip including small gift items from friends and colleagues, getting ready to be away from their families for 4 days – to help alleviate the spirits of the survivors in the Ishinomaki city in Northeastern Japan. They are prepared to dig mud, sing and dance, prepare hot meals – but what they are most looking forward to is the human bonding with the survivors and Japanese volunteers.

Among the volunteers in the Caravan to Japan are survivors from the 2004 tsunami. “We hope our visit will bring joy to all of our friends in Japan and remind them that they are not alone. A rainbow will always come after a storm, though sometimes we cannot see it because it’s covered by the clouds or simply because it comes at night. But we know they will come out stronger and braver,” said their representative.

Staff from the ASEAN Secretariat and Dialogue Partner projects will also join the Caravan. “We are all very excited to volunteer in this mission, to ease the burden of our Japanese friends. All of us in ASEAN Secretariat will pray for them, and hope that they will continue to stay strong and are able to move on with their lives,” they said.

The press conference was also attended by the Ambassador of Japan to ASEAN, Mr Takio Yamada; members of “Padi” the Indonesian rock band, Derby Rumero and their representative from their label Sony Music Indonesia; as well as representatives from flight sponsors, Thai Airways and AirAsia. The event is supported by sponsors in Japan such as the Nippon Foundation and the Japanese broadcast station, NHK.

“On behalf of the Government of Japan, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, for his wonderful leadership and initiative. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the Northeast region of Japan, we have been rising up against the sorrow with the help extended to us from all the ASEAN Member States and the world. I believe that the visit by the Caravan will definitely get to the people’s heart in Tohoku, the Northeast region and the song “Move towards Hope” will be delivered to the cores of their hearts,” said Ambassador Yamada.

The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, added that “All the volunteers, including myself, are looking forward to sharing meaningful moments, a bit of our ASEAN culture and, simply, a piece of ourselves. We know the situation may not be perfect or comfortable – but we are okay with that. We are ready to share rooms, or sleep in shelters, and sing and dance without electricity. All these are nothing compared to what our Japanese friends have had to endure since the disasters.”

The ASEAN Caravan of Goodwill, which will be led by Dr Surin, is a joint effort among the civil society, businesses, embassies, public personalities and the media. It will see the participation of ASEAN peoples, such as the Secretariat staff and survivors of past natural disasters in the region. The idea was mooted and agreed upon at the Special ASEAN-Japan Ministerial Meeting here last month, which was attended by the Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr Takeaki Matsumoto.