BCCJ and UK Firms Helping Tohoku

by Lori Henderson

The BCCJ continues to be active in communities affected by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, and recognises that the expertise of those who have been directly affected by the disasters is key to the planning and delivery of a successful recovery.

Recently, our www.wecarejapan.com aid portal—produced by IT services firm KVH—connected a temporary housing complex in Onagawa with Leeds-based, marketing and consumer information firm Call Credit. Survivors in the housing complex had requested “living packs” for 1,500 displaced families, through the NPO Peaceboat. The money raised by Call Credit’s fundraising drive is now being used to buy these packs, comprising daily essentials from suppliers in Tohoku to support the regeneration of the local economy.

And by the time this issue of ACUMEN is delivered, BCCJ member firm Unilever will have led more than 40 volunteers to help with the ongoing clean-up operation in Ishinomaki, again guided by groups who are developing recovery plans with local stakeholders.

Keeping in mind our mission to furnish the people of Tohoku with sustainable and enabling resources that will lead to self-sustainability, the BCCJ recently became involved with the development of a community café in Yamamoto-cho, a town on the border of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures. At the time of writing, while survivors in neighbouring towns and cities have moved from emergency shelters to temporary housing, Yamamoto-cho is the only town in the southern area of Miyagi that still runs a shelter.

In general, survivors in this under- publicised area are fatigued and almost entirely unresponsive to the volunteer groups that pop up sporadically to hand out soup and other one-time donations.

The community café, situated near the shelter, has been established with a view to connecting disparate groups of survivors with each other and with volunteers. In this shared space, people can come together, chat over a cup of tea or coffee, and break the monotony of post-11 March life. More significantly, perhaps, the café provides a hub for survivors to share their experiences with the local volunteers who play a crucial role in conveying needs to the local government.

Café leaders requested modest funding from the BCCJ for, among other things, water heaters and ceramic mugs in which to serve tea and coffee, as opposed to the paper cups that are ubiquitous across the stricken regions.

The Yamamoto-cho town office has praised the project, saying, “The cafe is providing a backbone for the budding community”, and it has expressed interest in eventually developing the site into a youth centre that locals will be hired to operate. The end game, as with all such projects in Tohoku, is to reduce volunteer involvement to a point where locals are self-sufficient.

Since 11 March, British businesses have stepped up to the plate and continue to innovate in their response to fundraising and recovery initiatives. We encourage BCCJ members and friends to nominate for the Social Responsibility category of the 2011 British Business Awards those firms and organisations that have implemented programmes with the potential for future development, growth and sustainability. The BCCJ champions the implementation of projects that generate outcomes with measurable, long-term benefits for disadvantaged communities, and looks forward to receiving your nominations.

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