We hope you and your loved ones are as safe and well as can be during these challenging times and that you are filled with hope with the arrival of spring. We are forever grateful for all your generous donations and encouragement.
It is very hard to believe that it has been ten years since the devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami ravished the Tohoku Coastline in Japan — tragically killing more than 18,000 people and displacing nearly 500,000 people. Several thousand people remain unaccounted for and tens of thousands of people have not returned home. While many infrastructure reconstruction projects have been completed, far less was invested in helping people rebuild their lives and heal. There’s still so much to be done and acts of kindness and volunteerism still go a long way in Tohoku.
Just last month, in the late evening while people were sleeping or getting ready for bed, a 7.1 earthquake struck the Tohoku region, an aftershock from the 2011 earthquake. Fortunately this time there was no tsunami and there were few fatalities, although approximately 50 people were injured. Our friends and partners in Tohoku must have been scared by this strong aftershock. It is a reminder of the fragility of life as we know it and has motivated us even more to continue our Natural Disaster Recovery Projects.
You have helped us assure many people in Tohoku that they have not been forgotten as they continue to overcome daily challenges in further rebuilding their lives. Recovery and rebuilding take many years. Some are still living in what was originally intended to be temporary housing and there are still significant housing, infrastructure, labor and other shortages in the region. In addition, with the passage of time, the occurrence of devastating natural disasters in other parts of Japan and now concerns and regarding the coronavirus, the number of volunteers going to and the amount of charitable donations being made for Tohoku continue to drop. States of emergency are still in effect urging residents in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures not to travel, and Japan’s Covid vaccination program is just getting underway.
Labor shortages throughout Japan coupled with the coronavirus continue to make it very hard for local farmers in Tohoku to run their farms and in turn to further rebuild their lives. Many of the local farms are family run with one, two or three family members doing all the work themselves. Growing and harvesting rice, vegetables and fruit sufficient enough to earn a modest livelihood and to repay the significant debts they incurred after the earthquake and tsunami are very labor intensive and the local farmers cannot do all the work by themselves. They need the continued support of volunteers.
The local farmers always ask us to convey to everyone who supports our volunteer activities in Tohoku just how much they appreciate all the support. What Hands On Tokyo volunteers are able to accomplish in a single day would take the local farmers and their families many days to complete.
Since our last report, we had hoped to resume bringing to Tohoku for volunteering groups of children and their caregivers from different Tokyo Area children’s homes. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, we have had to further postpone these trips and we are still looking for the time when we can safely reschedule these trips.
These volunteer trips are very impactful on the children and their caregivers. For the children who are the beneficiaries of volunteer activities at their children’s homes, these volunteer trips are an opportunity to experience volunteering themselves, to gain new experiences and life skills, and to gain further self confidence. These experiences will help them throughout their lives. The children deeply appreciate the opportunity and are still benefiting from all that they have learned and experienced. They and their caretakers keep sending us wonderful feedback. Many want to volunteer again and they have encouraged others in their group homes to volunteer in the future. These volunteer trips are also an important opportunity for the caretakers to better understand each child’s fullest potential. We are deeply committed to continuing to organize these volunteer trips for children and their caregivers in Tokyo Area children’s homes.
Since our last report, we have been further raising funds for these volunteer trips and we have been in regular communication with our partners in Tohoku and at the Tokyo Area children’s homes. And we have been closely monitoring developments in Tohoku and Tokyo concerning the coronavirus.
We also organized volunteer holiday projects at three of the Tokyo Area children’s homes in support of Tohoku. We provided the children’s homes with arts and crafts supplies and holiday decorations so the children could create “thinking of you” holiday messages which we delivered with holiday sweets to local farmers, the Ogatsu Rose Garden and others in Tohoku just before the year end holidays. These projects further ignited the spirit of volunteerism among the children and reminded them of the importance of thinking of others in need of support. These projects also encouraged local people in Tohoku who may have been feeling forgotten and alone while attention has shifted to other challenges. And they help maintain the warm connection between the Tokyo Area children’s homes and Tohoku. Saito-san and his wife, farmers in Yamamoto-cho (in Miyagi Prefecture) whom we have assisted on many of these volunteer trips), kindly sent vegetables from their farm for the children.
We also have been finding further ways for volunteers to support Tohoku while staying at home. For example, we organized the gathering PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment) like face masks for children and hand sanitizer and delivered them to the Fuji Kindergarten in Yamamoto-cho.
There is still so much to be done and there are still many people in need of encouragement and support in Tohoku. With your generous support, we will continue to organize volunteer trips to help — and volunteer projects in Tokyo to support and encourage — farmers and others in Tohoku as they continue to work hard to further rebuild their lives.
Thank you very much in advance for your continued generosity, for touching the hearts and souls of so many people in Tohoku and for helping provide these life changing volunteer opportunities to so many children living in Tokyo Area children’s homes. Slowly but steadily the road to recovery and pathways to future wellbeing are being paved.
Please stay safe!