Mr. Yasuyuki Sugiura, President of The Nippon Club, presenting AHV with a check for our Oklahoma relief efforts.
We did not know, when we landed in Japan a few short days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, the lasting impact our experiences there would have on us, and the work we were doing over two years later and half-way around the world in central Oklahoma, US.
After Mayor Kimiaki Toda of Ofunato, a coastal city of 50,000 in the Iwate Prefecture, invited All Hands into the community, we established Project Tohoku on April 12, 2011, and worked with community members to muck and gut homes and businesses, clean out a fish factory (that was a dirty and smelly job!), clear drainage systems, restore treasured family photos – and do anything else that needed to be done.
Over seven months, 12,000 people helped, and more than 1,000 volunteers from 34 countries later, we completed Project Tohoku. It was bittersweet to leave a community we cared deeply about and the people we had worked side-by-side with for many months, but we left knowing that we had helped Ofunato make significant strides in its recovery. We also knew that we had the full support of the Ofunato community to move on and serve others in need via major responses in the Philippines and the US.
Although our ties to Ofunato and the people of Japan are strong, never did we anticipate the ways those ties would manifest in support of our response to the tornadoes in and around Moore, OK in May of this year – just over two years after the earthquake and tsunami hit their own communities, the people of Japan were giving back in a big way.
Following the devastating tornadoes on May 19th and 20th, one of our All Hands assessment teams was quickly deployed to the area, and we established Project Moore a few days later on May 29, 2013.
Our friends in Japan – many in honor of the work we had done in Ofunato, and wanting to help the US people as they had been helped after the earthquake and tsunami – rushed in to support Project Moore and the Oklahoma recovery efforts.
A few months prior, in February 2013, All Hands received a very generous donation from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York, Inc. (JCCI) and The Nippon Club for our Superstorm Sandy response. JCCI members, as residents of New York and surrounding areas, were themselves dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and they wanted to find a way to support the recovery efforts. Based on our work on Project Ofunato and our ties to Japan, JCCI identified All Hands and, through their donation, contributed to initial debris clearing, mucking and gutting – and later, mold treatment – for over 400 homes and families in both the Long Island and Staten Island areas.
After the Moore, OK area tornadoes struck, JCCI once again reached out to All Hands to support our Oklahoma recovery efforts – even though they had limited connection to Oklahoma themselves, it was important for JCCI to continue to give back to communities, like their own, that had been devastated by natural disasters.
Equally remarkable was a gift from Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives) and 47 of its partner organizations. After hearing a speech given by former Ambassador to Japan John Roos at a conference in Morioka, the members of Keizai Doyukai raised $30,000 for relief efforts in Oklahoma to honor the support from the United States in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In conjunction with Ambassador Roos’ speech to the 1,000 top Keizai Doyukai executives who were present, and because Ambassador Roos volunteered on Project Tohoku, Keizai Doyukai chose to support All Hands.
And in one of the most inspiring and heartfelt examples of the people of Japan wanting to give back by supporting tornado recovery efforts in Oklahoma, a number of companies and individuals went to the US Embassy to find out how they could contribute. Hideko Oikawa, of Oikawa Denim – a jeans company that was washed away by the 2011 tsunami, was one of those. Since the tsunami, Ms. Oikawa has played an instrumental role in helping the residents of Japan return to normalcy. She, along with others in her community, pooled funds and arrived at the US Embassy with cash in hand, ready to donate. The embassy, which cannot accept donations, suggested supporting an organization like All Hands – organizations they knew had worked in Japan in 2011 and which were also working in Oklahoma in response to the tornadoes.
Thank you to all of our friends and supporters from Japan – including JCCI, The Nippon Club, Keizai Doyukai, and all of the people who went to the US Embassy wanting to give back – who make it possible for All Hands to serve communities around the world who have been impacted by natural disasters!