Model Behavior

Model Behavior

Dean Newcombe combines good looks and good deeds


Originally published on on December 2011

If I asked you to name the most charitable professions, modeling would probably not be at the top of your list. The much more common stereotype is the shallow, image-obsessed model who would rather count calories than collect donations and wouldn’t think of engaging in manual labor lest they break a nail. One local model is working against that stereotype, however, and helping to rebuild Tohoku while he’s at it.

Dean Newcombe first came to Japan in 2008 as a traveler eager to visit Asia for the first time and experience New Year’s in Japan. The 27-year-old from Nottingham found life here so appealing he ended up staying on for a year and half, forging a professional and personal relationship to the country that would urgently pull him back after the March-11 earthquake.

In early 2011, Newcombe started a platform he calls Intrepid Model Adventures, which he was using as a tool to bring together his passions: modeling, traveling, health and fitness, and helping others. “One of the keystone beliefs of IMA is by taking care of yourself, your own nutrition and your own fitness, you can become strong enough physically and mentally to take care of others,” he explains. In March, he was coming out of three months of travel in Scotland focusing on his own wellbeing, and felt he was ready to bring that built-up energy and love to those affected.

Others were not quite so enthusiastic about the idea. Newcombe was cautioned that it would be unsafe, financially unrealistic, that he didn’t have any special training and that Tohoku was unreachable by car. Nevertheless, he was determined to make it happen. In early April, he got on a plane to Japan, spent a week in Tokyo making contacts with NGOs operating in the disaster zone, and headed up to Iwaki on his own to get some on-the-ground information.

From the nearest operating train station, Newcombe headed on food to the volunteer center and placed himself at their disposal. Over three days, he helped locals with whatever he could, despite frequent aftershocks, uncertainty about the Fukushima situation, and the difficulty of bridging the language gap. Expecting to find people steeped in grief, he was instead impressed by their energy and determination.

“Should I feel guilty for smiling in this situation?” Newcombe asks on his blog. “No doubt for everyone this was a tragedy, but what people needed was our great energy and hope, not our pity.”

The experience only strengthened his resolve to do more, and over the last six months, Newcombe has teamed up with Meiyukan, a non-government shelter, to establish a base of operations for IMA in Ishinomaki, allowing them to respond quickly to whatever needs they encountered. Newcombe and his IMA volunteers have cleared rubble, entertained children in the evacuation centers, bought and delivered fresh fruits and vegetables to people working to clear their houses, collected clothes and other supplies in Tokyo, hosted barbecues and other events, and generally made themselves useful wherever needed. Not to mention the fact that they’ve collected over ¥3 million in donations along the way.

Although he spends most of his time volunteering in Tohoku, Newcombe hasn’t completely abandoned his modeling work—though that has also been oriented towards helping Tohoku. He entered a contest sponsored by beauty and health-care manufacturer Kao to pick a Romeo from eight foreign entertainers in Japan. If selected, Newcombe pledged to donate the prize money to relief efforts. In the end, he came in second, but the experience allowed him to recruit other contestants to his cause and has opened doors for a possible sponsorship arrangement with Kao.

For Newcombe, his work and charitable ambitions are inextricably entwined. “If I am to work as a model, then I want to be more than just a man in magazine,” he says. “I like to think of the word model as in ‘role model.’ It’s exciting to try and inspire a world not often associated with volunteering.”

No matter what you do, though, volunteering should be a part of your life, says Newcombe. “It seems to me that the 21st century way of thinking is “What’s in it for me?” and “How much can I get for it?” I want to see a world where giving seems very natural and doing things for love alone is enough. Whether volunteering for an hour or a year, I believe that such experiences teach us who we really are.”

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