01/02/2014, 00.00
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Once a child among the boat people fleeing Vietnam, today a priest among Fukushima’s evacuees

The 36-year old priest Nguyen Quang Thuan "gives back" to the country that welcomed him devoting himself to psychologically helping to those who have been evacuated from their homes in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster of March 2011.

Fukushima ( AsiaNews) - Welcomed in Japan 28 years ago after fleeing with his family from South Vietnam, today the 36-year old priest Nguyen Quang Thuan "is giving back " to the country that took him in by devoting psychological help to those who were evacuated from their homes in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster of March 2011.

They are people housed in temporary accommodation in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, isolated within their shelters, to the point that a meeting place has been ste up for them called "outreach cafe".

The Vietnamese priest goes there every day: he prays for displaced people, listens to them, tries to help them out of their isolation, to socialize. Don Thuan is in charge of 10 temporary housing complexes: Together with volunteers from the Catholic church they visit and chat with residents. "Evacuees - he said - are worried about whether they will be able to go home in the future. I want them to be positive about their lives, even if it's just a little".

Born in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, Thuan lived with his two brothers and sister, as well as his parents who ran a coffee plantation. However, his family decided to leave Vietnam for fear of persecution by the new government in the chaos just after the end of the Vietnam war.

One day when Thuan was 5 years old, found himself on a small wooden boat, one of the estimated 1.44 million refugees who escaped from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia after Saigon's fall in 1975.

On the boat, there was barely enough food for three or four days. Thuan filled his stomach by licking sugar that his parents had given him. During the journey, an unidentified boat came close to his vessel and male gang members with guns boarded demanding money. "I can't watch pirate movies," said Thuan, who retains vivid memories of such experiences.

Thuan reached Indonesia's Galang Island after being at sea for more than a week. After spending two years with his elder sister at a refugee camp, he came to Japan, where his father and elder brother had taken refuge. The family stayed at a Catholic church in Miyazaki Prefecture.

Thuan was bullied at school and consequently didn't go to school for a while. He studied hard, though, and entered the department of theology at Nanzan University's faculty of humanities. "I wanted to put myself out there for others by becoming a priest like the priest of the church who accepted my family," Thuan said.

"The evacuees arrived at the temporary housing to take refuge from radiation. I also fled my home country and arrived here," Thuan said. "Many people helped me get to where I am now. It is natural for me to help others".


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