Sunday, March 27, 2011

Eisenhower Fellowships – Day 180

It has been six months (give or take a day or two) since learning I was an Eisenhower Fellow (EF). There have been interesting conversations with alumni, staff, and current Fellows either in person, by phone, or email. The latest has probably been the most meaningful by far.
All of the 2011 Fellows, both international and U.S., were assigned to take two leadership assessment tests. We were sent an email containing the link to the websites so we could finish our assignment. There was a due date of March 23. A follow-up email was sent reminding us to finish it if we already hadn’t. Keep in mind, it was a mass email for all of the 2011 Fellows.
A second follow-up email was sent to remind us again, but this time there was something different. After the mandatory business paragraph emphasizing why the assessment needed to be done on time, the second paragraph really caught my eye and hit home.
The devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan had just happened, leaving a country and its people in turmoil. Every morning there had been coverage of the disaster between protests in the Middle East. I was emotionally detached and just vaguely listening because it is the news, background noise to start my day. But the second paragraph in the email changed all of that.
The EF staffer let all of the 2011 Fellows know that Shunsuke Niwa would not be attending the opening EF session in Philadelphia in April due to the crisis in Japan. Shunsuke will be participating in the Northeast Asia Regional Program this September-November, but will not be traveling to the U.S. I and the other 2011 Fellows would not be meeting Shunsuke.
The first reply that came through that I was able to see was from Erfa Iqbal of Pakistan. Erfa is a staff officer to the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Her email, kind words and graciousness motivated me to write my own words to Shunsuke. However, Shunsuke’s reply definitely changed how I watched and processed the news in the morning.
Shunsuke’s (Shun as signed at the end of the email) reply was this: I am Shunsuke Niwa, writing from Tokyo, Japan. Though I was supposed to participate in MNP 2011 Program with you all, the unprecedented natural disaster that hurt Japan recently prevented me from visiting the U.S. this spring.

I would like to express my deep appreciation to you all for supports, thoughts and concern you and your countries have given to Japan since the worst earthquake and ensuing tsunami we have ever experienced occurred on March 11. The death toll is about to reach ten thousand, and we will need to tackle various issues in the coming years. I am currently responsible for the management of Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train), the main transportation artery in Central Japan Area, and will do my best to help Japan's resiliance through maintain the operations of this high-speed railway system. I believe I will be able to learn lots of lessons through this experience and will share it with many people in the world through EF's great network. I really look forward to meeting you all in person some day.
Normally I would not post things like that, but Shun’s response really put things into perspective. If you haven’t been keeping up with the news there were four missing bullet trains with an unaccounted number of people on board…and Shun is responsible for their management. What responsibility Shun has during this crisis.
I cannot fathom the turmoil and grief that must be taking place in Japan. Couple that with the nuclear reactor, there is definitely a crisis that needs to be dealt with and will take considerable time to make right.  
Then another email was sent to Shun from Rajsekhar Budithi of India. Rajsekhar is the CEO for the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty. He shared the guts of an email that had been circulating in India:
- 10 things to learn from Japan -                     

Not a single visual of chest-beating or wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.

Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture.

The incredible architects, for instance. Buildings swayed but didn’t fall.

People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.

No looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Just understanding.

Fifty workers stayed back to pump sea water in the N-reactors. How will they ever be repaid?

Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.

The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.

They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters. Only calm reportage.

When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly
The world could learn a lot from Japan
Yes, the world could learn a lot from Japan and I am positive I could have learned a lot from Shun in Philadelphia, but will miss out on that opportunity due to disaster. However, I have already learned much from this ordeal: This is exactly what the Eisenhower Fellowships was meant to be, a worldwide network of friends that have the best interest of all people at heart.
I may be a hayseed in a very rural part of Idaho, but I have never been closer to world events than now. Even though I have not met Shun, I hope my heartfelt words make a difference and give strength during this time of need. I know that the kind words to Shun from my class of Fellows have made a huge impact on me.
The interchange of emails and the professionalism and graciousness of Shun is definitely a testament to the quality of people that become Eisenhower Fellows that I hope to live up to. These are everyday people that want more and give more and take responsibility highly. I am proud to have been chosen as an Eisenhower Fellow and hope that one day I will be able to meet Shun face to face.

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