April 6, 2011

our inspiration

Our friend Tsukasa had planned to get married on March 12th – the day after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed entire towns along the northeastern coast of Japan. Luckily, his fiancée and his family were unharmed, but his neighbours, his home, all his possessions, and $10,000 that he had saved up for a honeymoon in Mexico were all lost in the tsunami.

Three weeks later, he offered to show us around his town and give us what was essentially a guided, personal tour of the damage and the effect this tragedy had on him and the people of his town, Soma. To say it was surreal, confronting and heartbreaking would be a huge understatement – each of us were deeply moved by the experience and Tsukasa himself immediately won us over with his good humour and warmth.

His story is not unique. There are thousands of others who have experienced similar hardships and losses. However, after he so kindly invited us into such a deeply personal part of his life, and after witnessing him confront his losses with such humility and strength, we decided we needed to help.

Tsukasa and his family own and operate Haragama Youchien, a kindergarten in Soma. All 64 of their students were safe from the tsunami as they were aboard a bus being driven by Tsukasa when the massive wave destroyed their neighbourhood. Twenty-seven students lost their homes and are now living in evacuation centers. Many families are now without incomes, as various businesses in the area were also washed away. Fortunately, thanks to being located atop a small hill, the kindergarten itself was untouched by the tsunami. They are already planning to re-open and resume lessons on April 11th – exactly one month after the tsunami ravaged their community – free of charge.

On top of this, despite their own personal losses, and with the help of some of the students’ mothers, Tsukasa and his family have taken it upon themselves to provide hot meals and offer a bus service to and from the kindergarten for each student, beginning April 20th. Due to the lack of income and essential resources in the Soma area, we have decided to help Tsukasa in this noble endeavour by providing them with the food, supplies and financial support they need until life in Fukushima begins to return to normal and they can operate efficiently once again.

Thanks to the generous donations we have secured from businesses and other NPOs alike, Tsukasa already has enough food to provide his students with hot meals for the immediate future. However, he still needs our help to cover the kindergaten’s operating costs. By donating, you will be helping to replace destroyed white goods, food preparation supplies and teaching materials, as well as helping cover delivery, transportation and tuition costs which Tsukasa and his family had originally planned to cover by themselves.

Ensuring the welfare and quality of life of the students of Haragama is our first priority. However, by helping Tsukasa himself shoulder this burden, we also hope we can grant him and his family the time and peace of mind they so deserve to begin rebuilding their own lives in Soma. By helping the students of Haragama, you will also be helping the man whose selflessness and heart was the inspiration for all of our efforts so far.

With thanks and love from Fukushima,

Billy, Darren, Danny, Sayaka, Haruka, Vinnie and Kevin

how to donate

For those outside the Fukushima area, you can donate money at any time directly to our PayPal account by simply clicking on the button at the top of this page.  If you don’t have a PayPal account, you can make a donation via credit card by entering your details and clicking ‘continue.’

If you would like to make a non-monetary donation, please let us know at haragama.fukushima@gmail.com.

For those of you in Fukushima, aside from asking for donations, we will be doing various fundraising activities over the next two or three months in order to raise money for Tsukasa, Haragama and the city of Soma. We will be sending out info about these activities to guests of Hearts for Haragama on Facebook, so please RSVP, save the date and get involved!

You can keep up-to-date on donation goals and where your money is going by checking back on this website. If you would like to host your own fundraising event, whether you’re in Japan or anywhere else, please drop us a message at haragama.fukushima@gmail.com.

December 7, 2011

the missing chapters

With this update, we would like to take the opportunity to bring our readers and followers up to date with some of info and photos of our activities within Fukushima over the last few months. Aside from much ‘behind the scenes’ work – which is as necessary as it is unglamorous – we have also had the opportunity to ‘get our hands dirty,’ as it were, with some activities in and around Haragama.

A few months later.

Back in June, members and friends of hearts for haragama went to plant sunflowers in a field next to the Kindergarten. After witnessing the destruction of all living things by the wave that swept away hundreds of kilometres of coastline, is is inspiring to witness the birth of new life and the sheer resilience of nature in the face of adversity. With the fallout of the nuclear accident mere kilometres down the coast from Soma, there are uncertain times still ahead, but the sunflowers themselves are also said to help suck any residual radiation from the ground. Seeing the sunflowers bloom has both very tangible and very symbolic meaning for us and the people of Fukushima.

We have also been lucky enough to participate in a few other festivals at the Kindergarten. It is always reassuring to see kids so happy to be able to meet and play with people from other countries. At the same time, we are always grateful to be able to contribute back to the communities that have welcomed us over the past few years.

During our many trips to the coast to assist in the clean up efforts, we discovered many personal artefacts that had been lost or abandoned during the chaos of the tsunami. Rather than simply leaving them to be bulldozed along with all the other wreckage, we took it upon ourselves to sort whatever we could into bins so that they may be collected by the proper authorities during the course of their regular inspections. In particular, we tried to save photographs and albums, birth, death and marriage certificates, diaries and other unique personal effects. After some initial uncertainty as to whether or not we, as unregistered volunteers, had the ethical right to touch other people’s property, we decided we would go ahead with it. Regrettably, there was never any shortage of things to find, but we did what we could while we were there. Whether or not these items were able to be reunited with their owners, according to the rescue teams in Soma, this small deed was met with some gratitude.

Lastly, as some of you may recall, it was Tsukasa’s deeply personal story about his lost honeymoon that first inspired us to work together for Hargama Kindergarten. It is with great joy that we can bring you these images of his wedding to his beautiful wife Liliana. Many members of hearts for haragama were present at the ceremony, as well as many of their adorable students. After their countless selfless acts over the last six months, it is truly heartwarming that they could finally celebrate the wedding that they so deeply deserved, and to do so in the company of those whose lives they helped to rebuild ensures it was even more special.

While the tsunami caused their plans to take a dramatic and unforseen turn, it is a fitting epilogue to our story that they were finally able to enjoy their special day. The wedding is yet more proof of the strength of spirit of the people of Tohoku, and how our many and seemingly disparate lives have been forever bonded together through determination, compassion and a deep respect for our neighbours. We are achingly close to being able to release all the funds we raised via PayPal and presenting them to Tuskasa and his family at Haragama Kindergarten. In the meantime, we are determined to bring hearts for haragama to a close and are in the process of sending out thank you notes to our donors. Along with a message from us, we’ll also be sending a special gift from the students of Haragama to those who supported us (and indeed, them) along the way.

November 28, 2011

friendly worker bees

Today, hearts for haragama are excited and proud to share with you some of the fantastic help we received on behalf of Haragama Kindergarten.

Of course, while we received many monetary donations, some people came to us with offers to help in other ways. This post will be celebrating all the people who undertook some activity, or garnered some extra publicity, on behalf of hearts for haragama. Without their contributions, it is unlikely that we would have reached as far and wide as we did. Regrettably, there were times when we received offers of help and donations of such ambition and scale that we were simply unable to accommodate them. To those people we offer our apologies and thank them again for thinking of us.

The photo at the top of this post is of the Haragama students with some origami cranes, generously sent along with our very first donation from the Happy Corner Preschool in Vancouver.

One of the first offers we received was from Rhandi Uehara at the Heeia Elementary School in Hawaii, whose class of third-graders hand-made some very special pillows with messages of hope and support for the students of Haragama to use. It was a huge team effort on their part and after some delays at customs in Tokyo we were glad to finally be able to deliver the pillows to Haragama back in August. Of course, many of the students lost their possessions in the earthquake, so receiving such personalised gifts was made all the more special. Please take a look at their brand new website!

Title Cover
We also received some wonderful support from Rainbow Lights Ablaze, a international collective of writers and poets who came together through a  common desire to help tsunami victims. In a similar vein to the well-known Quakebook, Rainbow Lights Ablaze brought together the work of a range of contributors for a book of impressions, poems and stories related to the earthquake and tsunami. They generously sent us a copy of their book so that we might pass it on to the staff and students at Haragama Kindergarten, and helped garner some much appreciated publicity for hearts for haragama. Copies of the book may be scarce at this point but we encourage all our visitors to take a look at their website, which contains some fantastic Japan-inspired photography.

  

Our good friend Kathy Xu, along with the help of Foo Yixuan and Teo Shihu, based in Singapore, organised a hugely successful netball tournament in conjunction with a local netball club to spread the word about hearts for haragama. Nearly sixty players took part and from all accounts it was a huge success. Kathy was a good friend of ours when she lived in Japan and undertook many other fundraising efforts in addition to her support for hearts for haragama.

Leslie Nguyen-Okwu and her students at Pflugerville High School in Texas chose to dedicate the proceeds of their fundraising efforts to hearts for haragama. Moreover, they also took the time to create this great little PSA which focussed on the human impact of the earthquake and tsunami; a point that seemed in danger of being overshadowed by all the discussion surrounding the nature of nuclear power. We thank Leslie and all the students at Pflugerville for choosing to support Haragama.

Hideaki Fukuda from Shiga Ken in Japan is an artist and maker of fine Japanese ceramics. In addition to a generous monetary donation, he also gave us a large selection of his pottery to sell, the proceeds of which all went towards hearts for haragama. Please support him by taking a look at his beautiful work at www.sohdo.com (Japanese only).

We are grateful to be able to return some of the support shown to us by our various donors by featuring them on this page. There were a small number of very special donors whose information we are unable to put on this website; of course, we would like to extend to them the same gratitude that we do all of our supporters. We hope you enjoy these photos as much as we do!

Update (1/12/2011): This post has been updated to amend a few inaccuracies and add some extra details. Additionally, there will probably be another couple of updates over the coming weeks as we collect photos of other fundraising events. Thanks!

November 26, 2011

a letter from h4h

Dear friends of hearts for haragama,

It has been over seven months since the earthquake and tsunami that struck eastern Japan irrevocably altered the the course of our lives. We have all changed in vast and different ways since then; the event brought out emotions in us all that we never knew existed and we all felt the need to help in whatever ways we could, large or small. The world saw an outpouring of generosity and compassion for Japan that was as overwhelming as it was moving. Likewise for hearts for haragama, much has changed since our last update. Some of us have left Japan, others have been occupied with new jobs and new families, and regrettably, at times we weren’t able to be as organised as we would have liked to have been.

However, one constant is that we never lost the desire to see hearts for haragama through to its proper end. Most significantly, it is with great pride and sincere gratitude that we can announce that thanks to the incredible generosity shown to us, we were able to meet and exceed the donation target we set ourselves for keeping Haragama Kindergarten operational. This will be the first entry in a series of posts that will see us bring the hearts for haragama project to a close, report on all the fantastic help we received along the way, and shed some light on our activities over the past few months.

March 11th, 2011 will remain with us for the rest of our lives. It has become the reference point for all that we have experienced in Japan, and I believe in many ways it has come to encapsulate all of our feelings about what this wonderful country has to offer. The way the Japanese people responded to such a huge catastrophe – with all their quiet dignity, patience and resolve – has been inspiring to say the least.

It was due to the huge amount of love and support that we received from all over the world that we felt that what we were undertaking was indeed helpful and worthwhile. While we of course support and admire the work being done by larger established charities, we wanted to be able to attribute names, faces and personalities to our efforts; that is why, when we heard Tsukasa’s touching story, we immediately felt drawn into his life, the lives of his family and the students of Haragama Kindergarten, and that we had at last found our calling in Fukushima.

We began our organisation for very humble and human reasons, and throughout the entire process everything we accomplished was constantly buoyed by our friendships – with Tsukasa, with Haragama, with our communities, with ourselves – and our respect for the communities of Fukushima and Japan. We never looked beyond our goals or lived beyond our means and everything we undertook was with the best interests of Haragama in mind. We never employed outside help. We learned as we went along. There were stressful times, even panicked times, but there was never a time when we felt we could give up on what we had started. Each of us were present in Fukushima at the time the earthquake and tsunami struck, and while it affected each of us in different ways, it succeeded in bringing us together on a deeply personal level, and one that we each feel running strongly between us to this day. We felt a strong human element with all of our volunteer efforts and we were proud to be able to see the benefits of our activities first-hand, and indeed this website was established so that the community may follow us as we ventured out to the coast, to evacuation centres, and around Fukushima, and so that they might see the benefits of their support directly.

Fukushima and Japan have come a long way since March 11. Their courage has inspired us all and we will forever be grateful for the opportunity to help out in our small way. Likewise, if ever our belief that we were doing a worthwhile thing wavered over the last six months, it was reaffirmed each and every time we received a message of support, a donation, even a humble Facebook or Twitter message. At times, the sheer volume of interest we had garnered seemed in danger of overwhelming our small group given our lack of charity experience, but we have finally caught up and ask for your forgiveness and thank you for your patience in allowing us to process everything in its due course. We are no longer accepting donations to hearts for haragama, but as always, we appreciate each and every individual who has taken the time to read our website and spare a thought for the people of Fukushima and Japan.

We hope that you will stay tuned over the next few days while we bring you up to date with some recent photos from Fukushima, our dealings with PayPal, the outcomes of our volunteer efforts and some very special messages of thanks from the students of Haragama Kindergarten.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your patience, generosity and love.

Darren, Billy, Danny, Sayaka, Kevin, Vinnie and Haruka

July 4, 2011

alive and well

Hello and hisashiburi, friends of hearts for haragama,

This will be a somewhat lengthy entry as we explain our lack of updates to this site recently. It will be followed shortly by an update of our recent activities around Fukushima, and some of the great work that has been undertaken around the world on behalf of our organisation.

Firstly, we must apologise to everyone for our lack of updates on this website. After careful and considerable deliberation over the best way to deal with the issues with PayPal we outlined in our previous post, we are finally able to bring all our donors up to date with the situation we have been dealing with over the last couple of months.

Before going public with our ambitions for hearts for haragama, our team members did their very best to ensure that our methods for publicising our cause and collecting donations were honest, transparent and of course, legal. After consulting with numerous representatives at PayPal and referring to the relevant Japanese legal guidelines, we were confident that we would be able to freely receive donations into the PayPal account we had established. In fact, in the beginning, PayPal employees not only assured us that what we were undertaking was legal, but they also commented that it sounded like a great cause and encouraged us to go ahead with it.

Which we did. We had an overwhelmingly positive response in the first couple of weeks after going live with hearts for haragama, and collected a considerable amount of donations in this time. We were all so excited; after all the pain and hardships that we had endured and witnessed, we finally felt like we were making real progress towards helping the people of Fukushima. Despite this, and perhaps as a result of the sheer amount of money that was coming into our account so suddenly, we received notice from PayPal that our organisation did not qualify to receive donations under their terms and conditions.

The vast majority of these communications were automatically generated emails from deep within the bowels of PayPal, and had obviously not been screened by any human employees. After trying desperately to contact real people at PayPal to plead our case (and to remind them that they had in fact encouraged us to go ahead and set up our account with them), they admitted that their customer service representatives are not always up-to-date with the latest policies and regulations for collecting donations. In short, they said they had no way of verifying that we were not a fraudulent organisation, and that our account would be frozen.

Given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the March 11 earth and tsunami, this probably shouldn’t have come as a huge shock. We, as residents of Fukushima, were certainly unprepared for the experiences that were to follow, and it is understandable that large businesses such as PayPal would also have been unprepared for the kinds of charity organisations (and subsequent generosity of donations) that were to spring up in the aftermath of the disaster. However, this was only a small consolation for us at the time, as we became more and more certain that we would have to refund all our PayPal donations, close our account and effectively undo all our hard work for Haragama Kindergarten and the people of Fukushima.

We then began to consider the only alternative that was given to us by PayPal. They told us that if we waited 180 days, we would be free to transfer our donations from our PayPal account into our Japanese bank account where we would be able to withdraw it freely (and thus, put it to good use helping Haragama).

Initially, we didn’t want to even consider this course of action. We were in the midst of an emergency, dealing with people who had no shelter, clothes or food right then, not in six months time, and we wanted to help them immediately. However, it gives us great pride and relief to be able to announce that thanks to the support we have received from direct, personal donations into our bank account, cheques sent from overseas, and the proceeds of various fundraising ventures undertaken on our behalf, we have been able to provide Tsukasa and Haragama Kindergarten with the supplies and resources they needed to get through the most desperate times in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Many of the students and their families who were living in cramped evacuation centres in school gymnasiums and the likes have been relocated to temporary housing developments. And regular weekday classes have resumed and are ongoing at Haragama Kindergarten.

Of course, the efforts of the people in Soma and around the rest of the Tohoku region to stabilise and rebuild their livelihoods will be ongoing for a number of years. That is why we are so grateful to be able to present Haragama Kindergarten with the donations we collected through PayPal after the 180 days are up and our account is unfrozen, on October 14th 2011.

We will make sure to suitably celebrate this occasion when the day finally comes. We are all looking forwards to being able to go to Tsukasa with all your love and kindness and show him how much support he has from all over the world, even as the images of the disaster in Japan are replaced by scenes of rebirth and regrowth.

And finally, we couldn’t possibly continue with our efforts without acknowledging you, our families, friends, fans and followers, for taking an interest in our activities and for providing us with such generous support. Your donations of your time, money and resources will forever be appreciated by us, and by Tsukasa, his students and all their families. Together, we are really making a difference to the quality of life of the people in Soma, Fukushima, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything you have done, your words of encouragement and of course, your patience as we have dealt with this obstacle.

With love,

hearts for haragama

April 20, 2011

moving forward

Dear friends, family, and followers of Hearts for Haragama,

First and foremost, thank you for being patient as we worked on the PayPal situation.  Its really great to know that we have so many loyal supporters out there.

After about a months worth of negotiation we’ve come to the conclusion that we no longer can trust PayPal to help us with our organization.  Unfortunately, after collecting close to US$8,000 in donation money in merely a few weeks, the PayPal corporation decided to freeze our account and prevent us from withdrawing any of this money.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially after witnessing all of your generosity and knowing where all of this money could be going towards, but we have not lost hope!  With a bit of hard work and patience, we’re positive we can get things going in the right direction once again.

For those of you who have donated, we will contact you personally with further information about your donation and our decision to part ways with PayPal.  Please check your email within the next week for more details!

For those of you who still would like to donate, you can still donate via bank transfer.  It’s a bit more work than PayPal, seeing as how you actually need to physically go to your local bank, but when you’re there the process should be quick and painless.  All you need to do is present our account information (below) and ask the bank teller how to transfer money to an overseas account and they will help you from there.

Again, we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.  We hope you understand and will continue to give us, Tsukasa, and the students of Haragama Kindgarten your support.

Sincerely,

Billy, Darren, Danny, Haruka, Kevin, Sayaka, and Vinnie.

Bank Name:THE TOHO BANK

SWIFT Code :TOHOJPJT

Branch Code:0126124

Branch Name:WATARI BRANCH

Branch Address:2-1 FUNABA WATARI-AZA, FUKUSHIMASHI FUKUSHIMA、960-8141 JAPAN

Account Number:394710

Name of Beneficiary:HEARTS FOR HARAGAMA

Address of Beneficiary:3B GRAY SCORE 4-10 ARAMACHI FUKUSHIMASHI FUKUSHIMA  960-8042 JAPAN

How to remit donations:
Remittances can be made in either USD, AUD, CDN, YEN, or EUR. There will be a small handling charge deducted from your donation when sending money from overseas.
April 18, 2011

open day at haragama kindergarten

Last weekend we made our third trip as a group out to Soma. This time we were accompanied by a few other foreigners who wanted to join in the festivities – which is exactly what they were! Tsukasa had organised a special ‘open day’ at Haragama Kindergarten in order to give his students at evacuation centres the chance to get out amongst friends and take their minds off things for a while. Word quickly spread amongst other junior school-aged kids in the centres and on the day we ended up with close to 60 students of all different ages – an amazing turnout!

We left as a group from Fukushima City at 7am and arrived in Haragama shortly after 8am with three cars literally overflowing with friendly foreigners and donations of clothing, books, toys and food supplies. We had also planned an Easter egg hunt, face painting, rice pounding to make mochi and other activities and games for the kids.

All of our activities were a huge success and the day went off without a hitch. Young and old alike had a great time; parents kindly helped to make lunches and then helped themselves to the donations they needed. We partied hard from 9am until after midday and promised to be back soon for more fun and games. Even our often-questionable Japanese language ability couldn’t stop us making friends!

According to some of the parents, Saturday was the first time they had seen their children laugh since the tsunami. Tsukasa and his father thanked us from the bottom of their hearts for simply helping to put some smiles on the faces of the students and their parents and we were all very moved by their comments. Speaking personally, the open day was the most constructive and positive thing I have done since March 11, and I’m sure everyone else was just as glad to be a part of such a hands-on event. Putting aside all the amazing donations we have received so far, simply being amongst so many loving people was so reassuring and only convinced us further that what we are doing is truly making a difference to the lives of the people of Soma.

Thank you all for your continued support!

Please feel free to check out the entire album on either Picasa or Facebook!

April 12, 2011

the first month

Yesterday marked exactly one month since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Despite some severe and frightening aftershocks yesterday and today, it is heart-warming and humbling to see the progress Japan and the Tohoku area have made in this short time and now, as much as ever, we are proud to be a part of such a selfless collaborative effort.

However, there is still a long way to go! While the people of Tohoku still have their strength and their dignity, they do not have the resources they require to rebuild their homes, towns and facilities. That is where we can help.

So far we have made two trips out to Soma with carloads full of food, clothing, whitegoods and other supplies, we are planning another trip for this weekend, and we don’t intend to stop there!

Of course, we must also thank everyone for the generous donations we have received so far. As well as some fantastic individual monetary donations, we have also heard of various other fundraising initiatives as far away as Vancouver and Germany; likewise, kindergartens in Yokohama and other parts of Fukushima have offered school supplies…and all of this in just a few days!

We have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction so far, so let’s keep up the good work – your generosity is definitely making a difference and every little bit counts!

April 8, 2011

the story so far

Even before we had formally created our volunteer organisation, Billy had managed to secure some very generous donations from around Japan, and indeed, from around the world.

When we made the decision to help Tsukasa and Haragama Kindergarten, we did some quick calculations and realised that even for our comparatively small-scale relief operation, the costs were going to be high.

An early estimate of the food supplies Haragama would require per week looked something like this: 60kg of rice, an additional 30kg of rice for mochi, 7kg of pasta, 20kg of yams, plus an additional array of preservatives and condiments. The costs for food alone were going to exceed $600 per week, to say nothing of the water shortages, the upkeep of the kindergarten itself, transportation and of course the costs of tuition.

Fortunately, we were able to secure pledges from a wide range of sources, from local foreigner-owned restaurants, to NPOs in Tokyo, to businesses as far abroad as Hong Kong and the US. With these donations combined, we were able to cover roughly the first three months worth of food supplies, before even publicising our charity efforts.

We never hoped to achieve such significant fundraising goals so swiftly. But we still have a long way to go!

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