Over the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been traveling through Japan and the Tohoku region visiting the areas affected by last year’s earthquake and tsunami and seeing the progress that has been made by organizations supported by GlobalGiving donors. Every day I have asked people one question: What is most needed for the recovery of the Tohoku region; and every day I hear the same thing: jobs. In a region largely known for fishing and agricultural industry, the tsunami destroyed the livelihoods of thousands and thousands of families. People are eager to get back on their feet, but need help restarting businesses that were washed away in the tsunami.
After hearing so much about the importance of economic recovery in the Tohoku region, it was wonderful to visit ETIC staff and see the great work that this organization is doing to create employment in the region. ETIC matches talented young professionals with social enterprises in the Tohoku region. These young professionals leave their jobs to work full time for up to a year helping to launch small businesses or other social projects in the tsunami-affected area. This model both brings new, innovative ideas to the affected area, and also helps foster a sense of community involvement and public service among fellows that last throughout their lives.
On April 4, I visited two ETIC small business projects, along with GlobalGiving co-founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle. First, we visited a group of mothers in a small fishing community on the Oshika Peninsula in Ishinomaki, who were making high-quality necklaces and earrings out of antlers. The group sells the necklaces for Y2,000 (about $24) online and in local shops. The ETIC fellow running the project meticulously measured the jewelry and tested the quality before accepting each one. But what was most amazing was not that the group was making a high-quality project, but that they had more demand than they could fill! So often we have visited projects where people are creating items that no one was buying. This was a great case of a small business that was working, thanks to the hard work of both the mothers and the ETIC fellow.
We also visited a new restaurant in Ishinomaki’s city center. Just days from their grand opening, the staff was bustling trying to get things ready – painting walls, finalizing menus, and rearranging furniture. Their goal was not just to create a restaurant, but to create a center where the community could come together to share a meal and conversation to start rebuilding their lives. The bright walls were inviting, and the location – near other shops and across from the train station – was perfect.
We had a chance to talk to some of the staff. We heard stories about how they survived the tsunami and why they wanted to join in this new enterprise. One of the new cooks told us about how he escaped last year’s tsunami by climbing on the roof of his business and swimming to safety. Another told us of her desire to give back to the community. While we talked, the staff brought us food from the new menu. The goal of the restaurant was good food and conversation, and that’s exactly what we experienced.
In just one day we saw the very real impact that ETIC is having in the lives of people – from Fellows to tsunami survivors – throughout Tohoku.
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