Rotarians have been finding a number of ways to help victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan that killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands more homeless.

In response to the disasters, The Rotary Foundation established the Rotary Japan Disaster Recovery Fund , which will support long-term recovery projects in the affected areas. More than US$500,000 has been donated since the fund opened on 11 March.

“It is encouraging to know that our overseas Rotary friends care about us,” says Yuzaburo Mogi, president of the Rotary Club of Tokyo. “I am confident that the people of Japan will overcome this great disaster, and we are hopeful that we can get over the various difficulties soon.”

District governors in Japan are running a fundraising campaign to send money to the governors in affected areas. Mogi says that Rotarians who wish to help Japan should contribute to the Foundation's recovery fund. (Rotarians and non-Rotarians can donate online)

The first Matching Grant project to receive support from the fund was approved a week after the disaster. Clubs in districts 3350 (Cambodia and Thailand) and 2820 (Japan) are using a total of $65,650 to help provide food and drinking water for 15,000 people at an evacuation center in Ibaraki.

Other responses have included:

  • Three Rotary districts in Japan are using district funds to help. District 2610 (Ishikawa and Toyama) has developed an emergency relief project to provide public housing for up to 500 families evacuated from the disaster areas. District 2840 (Gunma) shortened its presidents-elect training seminars from two days to half a day and donated the remaining funds earmarked for the seminars to relief efforts. And District 2680 (Hyogo) set up a contribution box during its district conference, raising about $7,500 for recovery efforts. 
  • The Rotaract Club of Tokyo launched the Cheer Tohoku project to rally the support of Rotaractors around the world, asking them to use Twitter to send messages of support to survivors in northeast Japan. The club is also using Twitter to post photos of Rotaractors holding up short messages they’ve written. "We thought we could make use of the worldwide Rotaract network to show people in the stricken area that we care," says club president Ai Takahashi.  
  • The Rotary Club of Akashi, Hyogo, sent a private airplane carrying a load of medical supplies to the Rotary Club of Sukagawa, Fukushima, which delivered them to a hospital near Fukushima Airport. The governor of District 2640 (Wakayama and parts of Osaka) and six Rotarians also brought 1,000 blankets to Rotarians in the Fukushima region. 

Rotary Foundation alumni respond

Alumni of Rotary Foundation programs are also supporting Japan’s recovery efforts:

  • Rotarians and friends of Rotary in District 3330 (Thailand), an area extensively damaged by the 2004 tsunami, are among those who have felt especially moved to respond. The district’s Rotary Foundation alumni association worked with local Rotary clubs to raise $15,000 in contributions.  
  • A Group Study Exchange (GSE) team from District 6450 (Illinois, USA) was in Tokyo when the earthquake struck on 11 March. Japanese Rotarians “provided our team with unbelievable kindness and generosity” throughout the exchange, says team leader Bob Blackburn. He adds that they “cared for our well-being during and after the earthquake,” including ensuring that the team didn’t miss its flight home to Chicago. “My wife and I offered the Westmont Rotary club [Illinois] an opportunity to match our $500 contribution to District 2750 [part of Tokyo and Pacific Islands] for disaster relief efforts, and they responded with an additional $4,500. Plus, our GSE team members have pledged an additional $425, for a total of $5,425. Rotarians always come to the aid of others in an emergency. Please help our friends in Japan any way that you can.”  
  • Former GSE team members and others in District 5450 (Colorado, USA) are also mobilizing support. “We were involved with the outbound and inbound teams to Japan’s Sendai area last year and have been heartbroken to learn about the tragedies experienced by their friends,” says Past District Governor Mike Oldham. 
  • Miho Fukuhara, a former Rotary Peace Fellow from Japan, is temporarily leaving her post as a United Nations and intergovernmental affairs officer at UNICEF headquarters in New York City to join the Japan Committee for UNICEF for five weeks. “I never thought of myself being sent to Japan for emergency response work,” says Fukuhara, who managed and coordinated reconstruction programs in Iraq for Peace Winds Japan earlier in her career. “It is really sad to see the situation, but I will do my best.”