A poem by a Sumatra-born woman expressing the sadness of seeing her hometown engulfed by tsunami in 2004 recently captured the hearts of evacuees in a devastated town in Miyagi Prefecture.

” ‘Gomen ne’ (I’m sorry) . . . I could not stop the sea when she sent her waves that morning,” Syafwina, a volunteer worker from Kyoto, said as she read out the poem in Japanese at a morale-boosting program for people sheltering in Minamisanriku.

The waters “washed away all of our dreams, destroyed our home and took us and our children away to a different world,” she continued as the evacuees silently nodded or shed tears.

The town was one of those hardest hit by the tsunami last month that swept away most of their houses and left more than 1,000 residents dead or missing.

Her poem ended with the line: “If you will forgive me, I will stay as strong as before. . . . Goodbye my family. Goodbye my friends. Goodbye my loved ones. You will always live in my prayers and memories. Forever.”

Syafwina, 42, wrote the poem a month after her hometown in what was then Indonesia’s Aceh Province in northern Sumatra was devastated by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake and tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004. She lost her cousins, friends and a grandmother.

Syafwina, who came to Japan 12 years ago, was away from her family when her hometown was ravaged and she lost contact with relatives for three days. “I felt emptiness and sadness,” she said with tears in her eyes, recalling the time when she wrote the poem.

When the mega-quake and tsunami hit Tohoku, Syafwina, a graduate student at Kyoto University, quickly signed up for a 10-day volunteer program led by the Japan Asian Association and Asian Friendship Society in the devastated areas.

Before she left Kyoto, she grabbed copies of her poem. She felt she must share “the feeling of losing everything” with the Tohoku tsunami survivors and wanted to let them know that “the world is supporting them.”

“I also remembered that I was very touched by much help from Japan after the Sumatra earthquake,” she said.

After the 2004 earthquake, Syafwina switched majors to postdisaster management from bioenergy. She is also engaged in education on disaster preparedness as well as ways to help disaster survivors heal.

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