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Regarding Dreux Richard’s Aug. 23 Zeit Gist article, “Peace Boat-Rolls talks lay bare ethical minefield“: It is not easy to stir up controversy and cast doubts on the motives of a small group of selfless volunteers working to help Tohoku, where more than 5,000 volunteers have spent days and weeks at a time cleaning out houses hit by the tsunami. But Dreux Richard manages to do just that in this chaotic article about volunteer members of the American Chamber of Commerce Japan (ACCJ) who went with Peace Boat to help dig mud. Specifically, he does so with misinformation, odd sources and insinuation couched in ominous but unsupported rhetoric.

The truth is that many groups like Peace Boat are scrambling to do whatever they can just to support survivors, and to help provide meals and other basic necessities.

Raising private funds is vital to this effort. Peace Boat, like many other nonprofit organizations, is trying to raise money directly through concerned companies. Although “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) is well-established in other countries, it is only now developing in Japan.

Evidently, the effort that Richard featured — to bring kids out of areas with the highest levels of radioactive contamination in Fukushima for part of their summer holidays, an effort initiated by the Minamisoma PTA — was quite a success, as funds were raised from many sources. And 49 junior high school students participated in a program that saw them meet with young Sri Lankan survivors of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

A quick call to Peace Boat reveals that, to date, it cooperates with dozens of companies and has sent volunteers from more than 35 organizations to work in Tohoku through these pioneering CSR efforts. These concerned corporations, both Japanese and foreign, including ACCJ members, have been vitally important to the residents in crisis. Besides generating corporate donations and guiding volunteers, Peace Boat works closely with the national government, local communities and other aid organizations in its relief efforts, including the Red Cross.

Richard missed the real story: How can Japanese NPOs maximize their small amounts of money and influence to help fill the gaps left by government and large-scale relief providers to help the people still very much in need? I look forward to reading a serious examination of this issue, but this article is not that.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

david h. slater, ph.d.

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