Right after the earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, volunteer individuals and groups rushed to provide assistance.
Many were one-off efforts and gradually, the number of volunteer activities decreased in the four years that followed, but enthusiastic volunteer efforts remain on various levels — be it by individuals, nonprofit organizations or firms.
Regarding firms, large amounts of donations were collected, and large domestic and foreign firms, as part of their corporate social responsibility, or CSR, plans, undertook volunteer activities.
Panasonic Corp., headquartered in Osaka, is one such firm that has continued its CSR efforts in Tohoku.
“As a company, we feel that CSR activities in the devastated areas should not be just temporary, but continuous. We want to make the right effort by listening to the demands of the people in the disaster-hit areas,” said public relations officer Yayoi Watanabe.
“More recently, we have been putting a strong emphasis on supporting the next generation — the young,” she said.
Regarding young people, “Kitto waraeru 2021” (No doubt you can smile in 2021) is a program aimed at bringing smiles back to children’s faces, through the loaning of audiovisual equipment from Panasonic, allowing the students to film two videos: “What they want to tell people now” and “A message for themselves 10 years on.”
The program has been carried out in 19 elementary and junior high schools in Iwate, Fukushima, and Miyagi prefectures since September 2011, with volunteer staff from the company giving advice to students on the technical part of the filming process.
The Tokyo branch of U.S. securities company Morgan Stanley is another firm that has been supporting the people in Tohoku after the disaster, assisting with a wide range of volunteer programs.
Since June 2011, company employees have engaged in onsite recovery efforts to support communities in quake-hit areas.
Specifically, volunteer staff from the company spent several weekends right after the disaster, taking part in onsite recovery efforts in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, removing debris from houses and gardens and clearing mud out of street gutters.
“We expanded our volunteer leave allowance to provide employees the opportunity to engage in earthquake-related volunteer activities. We allowed employees to take up to five days of leave until December 2012, instead of only one day, which was the original policy,” said a Morgan Stanley spokesman.
Additionally, in collaboration with Second Harvest Japan, a nonprofit organization specializing in sending food to those in need, including disaster-hit areas, nearly 100 employees volunteered to pack and send a total of five tons of food to the disaster-hit areas.
Employees also gathered to pack and send sewing materials to the nonprofit organization “Arts for Hope,” to help its doll-making therapy sessions held in evacuation centers for children and the elderly.
More recently, in October last year, a team of Morgan Stanley employees volunteered for a weekend playground-building event in Fukushima Prefecture.
Together with kindergarten staff, parents, the local Lions Club and staff from nonprofit organization Playground of Hope, they built a new playground for Fukushima Lumbini Kindergarten, a preschool in Fukushima.
The team of 60 moved 20 tons of dirt to create a solid foundation for a play structure with towers, a slide and vividly colored benches.
Money for the playground was collected through donations at the company’s annual charity drive.
The company has also supported a reforestation project in Chiba with its joint venture partner, Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, participating in reforestation volunteer programs organized by nonprofit organization “Mori no Lifestyle Kenkyujo” (Forest Lifestyle Laboratory).
The project aims to restore the coastal forest, which had served to protect the local community from the impact of seaside winds and flooding, but was destroyed by the tsunami.
In April 2012, 60 employees and family members joined other volunteers to plant 6,000 saplings in the affected area. A total of over 220 employees and family members from both companies have made five visits to the same area in Chiba since then.