Dozens of high school students from Japan are in the Bay Area this month learning valuable skills that they hope will help them rebuild communities still devastated by the tsunami of 2011.
17-year old Ami Miura will never forget that day.
"At first, I was really scared. Then I went out and I saw the tsunami coming towards me, but I couldn't believe that was real," Miura, who is from Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture in Japan, said.
17-year old Jun Murai says the shaking of the earth is still very strong in his mind. "I was really scared. The ground was shaking like up and down," Murai, who is from Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, said.
March 11, 2011.
The Tohoku region of Japan.
A powerful 9.0 magnitude quake triggers a devastating tsunami sweeping away homes and leaving piles of rubble where schools and hospitals once stood.
Miura and Murai both lost their homes. "I was with my family looking at the house being washed out by the tsunami," Miura said. "I didn't really feel anything deep but two years later I went back to my house and I found a tool which I was using when I was a little kid and it made me cry."
Nearly 16,000 people died.
One of them was Ami's uncle. "Next day, everybody knew he wasn't there. He wasn't home. It took us a month to find his body," Miura said.
Despite their hardship and losss, Miura and Murai are determined to rebuild their communities.
More than two years after the earthquake and tsunami, the two high school students flew to UC Berkeley with 98 other students from the Tohoku region as part of the 2013 Tomodachi Softbank Summer Program.
For the next three weeks, they hope to learn leadership and community service skills to take back to Japan.
"They have faced something quite tragic, I think they really inspire me with their ability to engage with a crucial need to do something to make a difference," Megumi Inouye, one of the instructors, said.
The students will face so many challenges when they go back home. Rebuilding a school or a hospital is one thing.
Rebuilding a community's crushed spirit will be the ultimate test. Miura and Murai entered this program as students. They hope to leave as leaders.
"I wanted to do something good to the community. Because I joined this program to learn community building," Murai said. "Because I have been receiving a lot of experience from adults, I know I can return this to the community for sure."