A Brief History of Volunteerism in Akita

Looking at from Where and from Whom We Come

The foreign resident community in Akita prefecture has a long history of volunteerism. For over a decade, people from all over the world have joined together with citizens of Akita to work together to help the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.

Everest of Apples

In 2002 participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program living in Aomori created Everest of Apples to help raise funds to build schools in Nepal. Given that the apples of that region are famous, and given that a famous natural landmark of Nepal is Mt. Everest, the group called itself “Everest of Apples.” The group was founded by Aomori Assistant Language Teachers (ATL) Richard Patterson and Cameron Wrigley. Richard Patterson believed that “If everyone gets together and gives a little, great things can be done. If you pile up many apples, you can make a mountain.”

Aomori ALTs joined together with Akita ALTs and created an Akita branch of that organization. Together, Everest of Apples Akita and Everest of Apples Aomori worked to raise money for Nepal Education Support Trust (NEST) to build schools for communities in need. To do this, the group organized fundraising events. Some of the fundraising events that we do today can be traced back to this time, such as our Halloween Party and the Akita International Sumo Tournament. Trips were even organized to visit the schools in Nepal that Everest of Apples supported. Everest of Apples is still active to this day in Aomori Prefecture. You can find out more about their current activities on their homepage, Facebook page, or Instagram.

Room to Read

In 2006, Everest of Apples Akita, under the leadership of then Director Lauren Messing, began to work on its own to raise funds for Room to Read. Room to Read is an international organization that works together with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to promote literacy and gender equality.

By 2008, Everest of Apples Akita had come to simply be known as the Akita chapter of Room to Read. Through their efforts, they were able to increase fundraising in Akita from about ¥300,000 a year to around ¥1,000,000. By partnering with JETs in Oita prefecture, Everest of Apples Akita was able to fund the building of St. Mary’s Preschool in Mannar, Sri Lanka and Shree Jhuwani Secondary School in Nepal.

This school was established with the cooperation and efforts of the local community, Room to Read, and JET Programme participants, students and citizens of Akita and Oita prefectures, Japan. — A plaque at Shree Jhuwani Secondary School, completed in 2008

The majority of fundraising events that we do today were already in full swing by this time: The Halloween Dance Party, the St. Patrick’s Dance Party, the Lake Tazawa Camping Trip and the International Sumo Tournament were all held annually to raise money for charitable causes, but primarily for Room to Read. In 2010, Room to Read even held a kind of cultural carnival showcasing the the talents and cultures of ALTs living in Akita, while also showing Japanese residents of Akita what it is like to go to a western carnival.

The Spring Carnival held by Room to Read in 2010 at ALVE. Read more about the Spring Carnival on the Akita JET Wiki.

The Great East Japan Earthquake

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred off the coast of Japan 70 kilometers east of Tohoku. It was the strongest earthquake to ever hit Japan to that date, and the fourth strongest in the world. In Japan it is referred to as higashi nihon daishinsai (東日本大震災) or in English the “Great East Japan Earthquake.

In the west, the earthquake is largely known as being the cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, but the true reach and consequences of the earthquake were much broader than that. The earthquake and resulting tsunami caused a confirmed 15,894 deaths with an additional 2,562 people that to this day are considered missing. Over 400,000 buildings were declared either collapsed or partly collapsed. Roads and railways across Tohoku were destroyed, with many power plants shutting down and even a dam collapsing. Over 200,000 people lost their homes and are today either living in temporary housing or are permanently relocated. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan characterized it as the worst disaster that Japan had faced since World War II.

Minato, Japan, one week after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Photo taken by Lance Cpl. Ethan Johnson and made available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Community Response: volunteerAKITA and Akita Association of JETs

In response to these events Paul Yoo, an Akita ALT, and Minami Ishikawa, a Japanese resident of Akita, created the group volunteerAKTIA. They worked to organize volunteers to physically go to the affected regions and do relief work. They also supported efforts such as the Fruit Tree Project. At the time, while many people were giving rice or more usual nonperishable supplies, the locals found fresh fruit hard to come by and volunteerAKITA was able to fill that need. A local Akita store manager provided volunteerAKITA with fruits which they distributed to people affected by the disaster in Kesennuma

During that time, the Akita chapter of Room to Read refashioned itself as Akita Association of JETs or AAJ for short. This allowed the group to branch out into other areas of giving as well as do community building oriented non-charity events. During this time, AAJ largely raised money on behalf of volunteerAKITA, who then put that money to use for disaster relief. volunteerAKITA’s last event would be the Rikuzentakata Carnival on August 17, 2013, with the organization officially shutting down in 2015. Akita Association of JETs, however, continued to actively raise funds on behalf of local and regional causes and charities.

A collage of events from the last year. On the top row and from the left: Our trip to visit an orphanage supported by Blue for Tohoku, the St. Patrick’s Party, donating Money to the Director of AkitaFROG, the champions from the 12th International Sumo Tournament, and the banner from the Halloween Party. On the bottom and from the left: Christmas Caroling, Halloween Party, and the Board of Director’s presenting toys to the Misonotenshien Orphanage.

Charity Akita and Beyond

On June 13, 2016, a charter was voted on and passed that clarified the structure of AAJ and changed its name to Charity Akita. The name’s similarity to the national AJET organization often caused confusion, and the inclusion of the acronym “JET” in the name often made people think the organization had some official connection to the JET Program.

Charity Akita continues to support causes and charities that advocate and provide support for local and regional needs. These include regional charities such as Blue for Tohoku, an organization which provides a safety net for those orphaned in the 2011 earthquake, and local services such as Akita Family House, an organization which helps provide transportation and accommodation for families which need to temporarily relocate in order to give their children proper medical treatment.

We invite you to join the now 14-year legacy of volunteerism and charity in Akita as we continue to host events throughout the coming year. Sign up for our mailing list to receive updates about upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. For more information about Charity Akita and links to our social media accounts, please visit our website. If you have any questions, feel free to send us an email at charityakita@gmail.com.

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