NORMAN — Rotary International President Sakuji Tanaka learned many valuable things during his youth.
“I come from a large family, he said. “I am one of eight children. One of the things you learn is that you have to eat fast.”
Tanaka joked that this quality served him well as Rotary President because he can quickly eat his meals before he speaks at events like the Bi-district Rotary Foundation Banquet in Norman Friday night.
Tanaka, whose slogan during his year in office is “Peace Through Service,” is dedicated to helping the poor and the hungry of the world — children who eat fast because they are starving.
“We do not think about the ground beneath our feet,” Tanaka told the packed house of Oklahoma Rotarians gathered at the NCED Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. “We do not think twice about the walls that hold up our house.”
But almost two years ago come March, many Japanese did think about those things. The tsunami and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima killed 15,000 people and injured nearly 6,000 people. Four thousand are still missing.
“There are no numbers to measure what happened to so many people in a number of hours,” he said.
“Our building standards are the highest in the world,” he said. “We thought we were ready for anything.”
But Japan was not ready. Life for many changed dramatically. Those traumatic events made Tanaka take note. He realized that he is no different than the people he helps through Rotary.
“We do not know what it is like to have no water, no sanitation, no education,” he said.
Often, Rotarians like himself are benefactors from far away, seeing people in poverty from a distance. The tsunami brought home to him that human suffering is human suffering. That those in poverty feel hunger, pain and loss as acutely as those who were flourishing before the disaster wiped it all away.