Rarotonga resident Hideki Date sees life as a gift: a gift to be able to help others who are in need.
Originally from the Shinagawa Ward in Tokyo, Japan, Date came in to the Cook Islands under the United Nations volunteer programme in 2004. He is now the network technician for Te Aponga a Uira, a position he has held since 2007.
Date’s way of giving back to communities has become his passion. Every year since 2013 he has taken a few days of annual leave and visited his motherland as a volunteer worker under the Minamisōma Volunteer programme.
He is usually based on Minamisōma, a city in the Fukushima Prefecture, in northern Honshū.
It’s located near the site of a major disaster that happened in 2011when a tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing three nuclear meltdowns and the release of radioactive material.
Date says his volunteer work often involves going near the Fukushima nuclear power station area, where radiation levels are still high.
“Most people in the Fukushima area have left in search for a much safer place to live.
As volunteers, we visit the area, and help out communities still living there. We help them cut down trees, or clear out branches, cut grass or even help them move their belongings if they decide to move someplace else.”
As well as helping in the community, Date also volunteers to look after pets at the local animal rescue centre.
“I always remember looking after those cats and dogs,” he says with a smile. “And I’m not talking about just a cat and a dog, I’m talking about 100 cats and some dogs.
“My daily job was to feed them and look after them, and sometimes I spent nights sleeping amongst them. It was funny, because the cats would cuddle up against me.”
Date said the people of Japan had endured many disasters in recent years and it was seeing his people suffer that had inspired him to be helpful.
“In 2012 a powerful earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Japan, rattling buildings in Tokyo. This was one of the worst earthquakes the country has endured and it was followed by a deadly tsunami.
“Seeing people going through suffering is painful and all we could do to help is to assist them in any way we can. The sight of those people made me want to be involved in the volunteer programmes. I just wanted to help people out.
“And I remember there is a saying that goes, you have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”.
“We must do our little bit of good wherever we are, it is those little bits of good put together that can overwhelm the whole world.”
Date lives in Avatiu and has lived on Rarotonga for 12 years. He said he loves the island style which is laid back and relaxing.
“I love it here and I wish to live and settle here on Rarotonga for good.
“The nature is beautiful here and the people are friendly, I don’t mind going back home to Japan for a few days every year for volunteer work, but the Cook Islands is the perfect place for me to live.”