Beer fundraiser helps disaster-hit kids

by May Masangkay

Kyodo

It’s the season when cherry blossoms lure people to celebrate, with beer in their hands. But for Gary Bremermann, his beer is for a different cause — helping children cope in the aftermath of the March 11 disaster.

More than a month after the earthquake and tsunami rattled the Tohoku region, children in the severely affected northeast remain in dire need, and that has spurred Bremermann to round up his friends and other networks to organize a fundraiser where ¥100 from every bottle of beer sold benefits disaster relief operations catering to the educational needs of affected children in Tohoku.

“The core necessities for survival have been pretty much taken care of and we are now entering the second phase, where the focus will be on things such as support for the children in shelters and schools and providing them with something fun, enjoyable and stimulating,” Bremermann, a Tokyo-based recruiter, said.

A party marking the anniversary of the Beers for Books initiative he began two years ago in Japan to help finance Room to Read, which supports child literacy in developing countries, was held April 10, but the twin disasters turned the Sunday affair into a charity event specifically for the quake and tsunami survivors.

Organizers said more than 700 people unexpectedly turned up, 100 boxes of toys and books were collected and ¥1.4 million was raised.

The donations and proceeds will be channeled to nonprofit group Kokkyo naki Kodomotachi (Children without Borders), which has supported educational programs for underprivileged children in Asia since 2000. It also extended help to children affected by the 2004 earthquake and tsunami on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island.

“It’s good to bring people to a social venue, be together, share stories and have fun, while helping children for every beer you drink,” Bremermann, 47, said of the mixed crowd of Japanese and foreigners with the ages ranging from children, with their parents, to the late 60s.

In line with his call for people to donate books they liked as children, his 10-year-old daughter, Maya, donated the Japanese version of “Good Night Moon,” a book that they read together when she was younger.

Another U.S. businessman, Andrew Silberman, also attended with his 8-year-old son, Skylar, who donated a Beyblade spinning top toy, which the young boy said is popular among his peers and does not require batteries, making it good for disaster-hit children.

“We were looking for something to do, and it’s great knowing that children there would be playing the same kind of toys that our children would be playing,” Silberman said, adding that giving books and toys had a personal touch for them.

Kimie Moriya, secretary general of Kokkyo naki Kodomotachi, who has known Bremermann for around seven years, said she was overwhelmed to see such a turnout at the charity event.

Moriya, who will be joining her group’s future trips to the northeast, stressed that on top of delivering the toys and books, they will provide schools with educational supplies they lack and offer recreation such as sports.

“Since our group supports children’s education, we have visited the affected areas and met with the municipalities’ education boards in Iwate Prefecture to assess the children’s needs so we can have a grasp of what they really need in terms of education,” Moriya said.

Their target beneficiaries are the cities of Ofunato and Kamaishi, and the towns of Otsuchi and Yamada, all in Iwate.

For example, Moriya said, Kamaishi needs 1,000 items of gym clothes for elementary and junior high school students, while Otsuchi needs school buses for children to commute, blackboards and partitions when children of different grades are studying.

Moriya said their beneficiaries are likely to increase and Kokkyo naki Kodomotachi, which has continued to visit the disaster-stricken areas from last month, is working to ensure that extracurricular activities such as sports are available for the children.

With children having lost their homes and belongings, she noted that the group also needs to look after the psychological care of children in the aftermath of the disasters and one way is to send staff to coordinate with local school counselors or trauma experts.

“We are looking into the children’s long-term needs as we want the children to overcome this ordeal and live with a sense of hope,” Moriya said.

“Our support can last for at least one year or span through three years until they are back on track in terms of their schooling needs,” she said.