Tom Ouchi is one of those special people who help others without any judgment or expectation.
So, when he heard that a friend’s private/government co-sponsorship of a Syrian family was about to end, he was glad to offer employment to the family on his orchard. Since befriending the family, he’s helped them to integrate and settle into their new home in Canada. Not only has he provided work for them, but also transportation and food from his farm.
Tom’s empathy for the plight of immigrants goes back to hearing about the struggles his grandparents had after arriving in Canada from Japan in 1925. While his grandfather was able to secure a job in a pulp mill on the coast, unfortunately, he suffered an accident at work and lost part of his arm. The family relocated to Vernon by buying land and establishing themselves as agricultural producers of vegetables and apples. Today, Tom operates the business on the same land known as Ringo-en (Japanese for apple) Orchards on Bella Vista Road. Tom and his wife have raised their two daughters here.
Other stories heard from his mother recounts the period beginning in 1942 when Prime Minister Lyon McKenzie King signed an order to relocate citizens of Japanese descent to internment camps.
Tom’s mother was 12 years old when her family was sent to a camp in Kaslo, B.C. They lost their home, fishing boats and household items due to the internment.
“I feel I can make the biggest contribution by helping others who may be in a similar situation as my grandparents,” states Tom.
Coming from a background where he heard stories about his grandparents’ experience, he knew how people from other countries might feel after immigrating to Canada.
“I feel there is a parallel between my family history and the experience of other immigrants and I find it gratifying to be able to help wherever I can,” Tom said.
For many years, the Ouchi family has been quietly welcoming people from different cultures to Canada. Amazingly, one of his employees whose family is from India, has worked for him for the past 48 years since immigrating to the Okanagan Valley.
His interest in retaining cultural diversity in the community includes serving on the board of directors at the Japanese Cultural Centre, where many programs and events are offered to anyone who wants to learn more about Japanese culture. Currently, he is involved with the Vernon Sister City Committee.
The first Sister City was Modesto, Calif., and there are now five other cities from different parts of the world included. The mandate of the committee is to foster a favourable climate for the exchange of information and cultural experiences between the cities of Vernon and its Sister Cities.
Tom’s philosophy is to help provide a greater understanding of cultural issues.
“People have to treat each other as equals, regardless of their views. If we can look at each other with compassion and respect it will ripple out to others, as we are all human beings.”
The monthly Community Champion feature is submitted by Respect Works Here, which is an initiative of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan. They are also the host agency for the Local Immigration Partnership Council and the Thompson Okanagan Respect Network.