Supporting Tohoku’s recovery

Source(s): Japan Times Ltd., the

Giving back to society is very important to Philip Morris Japan (PMJ), the Japanese local subsidiary of leading global tobacco company Philip Morris International Inc. (PMI). In addition to its ongoing programs targeting domestic violence and child abuse, PMJ was quick to respond to the immediate needs of the affected area after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Four years later, PMJ continues to contribute to the region through programs that grow and develop to meet the changing needs of the affected area.

Immediately after the earthquake, PMJ quickly responded by donating ¥100 million for emergency aid and mid to long-term relief, in addition to matching employee donations and arranging on and off-site employee volunteers. As time passed and the restoration process continued, PMJ has been working together with NPOs to launch new projects aimed at supporting the ongoing restoration of the Tohoku Region.

Through this cooperation with NPOs, it was discovered that while there were various educational and financial support available mainly to elementary school children, there was little support available to high school students. This support is particularly important as the number of job openings has declined since the disaster, which can lead to an increased outflow of young people who have strong potential to play a major role in the continued revitalization.

To address this need, PMJ joined forces with The Nippon Foundation to launch the “Doorway to Smiles” program to support young adults in the affected area. The very first fruit to be borne from this project is the “Ishinomaki Cafe.”

This cafe opened in November 2012 on the first floor of the Ishinomaki City Hall and is open on the weekends. Local high school students played a central role in planning the cafe, including creating menus, cooking and marketing activities. The goal is to create opportunities for youth to gain valuable experience and to learn the necessary skills and leadership, which can lead to revitalization.

The cafe continues to be an invaluable experience for the students by providing opportunities to learn new skills, gain confidence and foster a sense of hometown pride. According to one student, “Even if I leave town for university, I want to come back.” Another student commented: “In the future, I want to connect Ishinomaki with other parts of the world. I am confident that the communication skills learned here will definitely come in handy.”

PMJ has also continued its on-site volunteer program. The company’s volunteering started in the immediate aftermath in Ishinomaki and stretched out to other parts of Tohoku. Each time, a large group of volunteers worked to clear rubble and debris from damaged houses, factories and even from street gutters. As time passed, the needs in the affected area have shifted to the mental health care of the victims and rebuilding the towns and communities. PMJ conducts programs to fit the evolving needs. Since 2013, PMJ has been volunteering at a farm in Higashi-Matsushima to support a young farmer in his efforts to rebuild his hometown.

Many of the houses and much of the farmland were washed away. Rooted in the local people’s strong will to rebuild, Kotaro Atsumi, a young farmer, established the agriculture corporation “Yotsuba Farm.” The project aims to restore a 120-year-old historic residence and the surrounding farmland, and to rebuild the community through agriculture to provide a place for local residents and visitors to gather. To achieve this, he needed a large volunteer force, which was difficult to find.

To meet these needs, PMJ has sent multiple volunteer teams of about 50 people over the last two years, for a total of more than 400 volunteers. The volunteers’ hard work on restoration of farmland led the organization to harvest crops that are used at area restaurants. The employees who participate in this program come away with the feeling that continuous support is necessary and they should not forget about the disaster.

Four years have passed. Over these years, much progress has been made, but the Tohoku Region still has a long journey toward recovery. PMJ will continue to support Tohoku by continuing to find ways to meet the changing needs of the process.

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