Students Spearhead Japan Relief Effort

March 24, 2011
by Doug Gavel

Japanese HKS students volunteer for the Stand for Japan campaign.
Photo Credit: Joao Abss, Media Services

When the earthquake and tsunami struck northern Japan in the early afternoon hours of March 11, many families were separated. Parents were at work or at home; children were at school or at play. For many it would take days or longer to learn the fate of their loved ones; even today many continue their search.

These personal stories are the inspiration behind the Stand for Japan campaign, launched this week by the Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Japan student caucus.

“This tragedy really comes down to the individual level,” said Hideko Hadzialic MC/MPA 2011. “Yes this is a national tragedy, but families are torn apart. We are here to support them and to support our country at a time of great need.”

Hadzialic and members of the caucus are working with Action for Japan, a Boston-based student organization dedicated to connecting Japanese students throughout the region and marshalling resources to help with relief efforts back home. Students have organized several events and fundraising efforts in the area to keep attention focused on the disaster and to help raise money for victims.

“This natural disaster has reminded us, I think, that we cannot take anything for granted,” Hadzialic says. “I feel it’s very important to keep up the Kennedy School’s proactive mentality, while always putting ourselves in others’ shoes, in particular those who are suffering. I am confident that our united support will help encourage and provide strength for the people in Japan.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you know someone in the [most severely affected areas] or not. As a person who owes a lot to the country, I have a responsibility to make efforts,” said Tatsuya Hasegawa MPA/ID 2012. “I think this is one way to embody the HKS philosophy of ‘ask what you can do.’”

Several Japanese students are eager to participate in the very difficult and complex challenges of recovery and reconstruction back home.

“Many heartwarming episodes during the disaster and the victims' struggles to live and move forward deeply moved me and strengthened my resolution to contribute to my country,” said caucus member Eriko Tanizawa MPP2, who will return to work for the Japanese government following graduation in May.

Shinya Fujimura MC/MPA 2011, who worked as a consultant in the past, is now considering starting a non-profit organization when he returns to Japan, with the goal of assisting in the national recovery effort.

“We are thinking about how to finance the costs of reconstruction,” Fujimura says, “but it’s not going to be easy, particularly for those who have lost their families, homes, jobs and friends.”

More than a dozen HKS students are from Japan. From all indications thus far, the students and their family members are safe. Yet Hadzialic admits that even for a country as economically strong as Japan was, it will take years to recover from this tragedy.

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