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Tokyo: An Olympic story of resilience and reciprocal generosity

In 2011, Japan was hit with three subsequent natural disasters. Now, after 10 years of recovery and a year-long pandemic delay, the Tokyo Olympic Games open in the capital city this weekend. A mass outpouring of global generosity paved the way to their recovery.

This Olympic Games represents the story of a hopeful, resilient people. But it’s also a story of remarkable, international generosity.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit just off the coast of Tōhoku, Japan and triggered a 15-meter tsunami that damaged the power grid and destroyed 200 square miles along the eastern coast of Honshu (Japan’s largest island). These events led to meltdowns and hydrogen explosions at a nuclear plant in nearby Fukushima prefecture.

Japan needed help quickly, and they needed help for the long-haul. Some of you gave to these relief efforts. And many of the charities you now support were on location within 48 hours, aiding in rescue and relief efforts.

According to Britt Lake, then executive director of Global Giving, the response to Japan’s disasters was one of the biggest outpourings of generosity the organization had seen in its 20 years of existence. They raised more than $9 million in the 10 years after the earthquake and headed up locally led, internationally supported rebuilding efforts. The international support was astonishing.

World Vision distributed hygiene kits and blankets and established child-friendly spaces to allow children to continue to play and to support their education during the disruption. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) mobilized groups of Japanese youths to help clean damaged homes and offer a “ministry of presence” to people who needed hope.

Mercy Corps partnered with Japanese charity Peace Winds to helicopter in tents for those left homeless in cities others couldn’t get to in two northeastern cities. They also stayed to provide post-trauma assistance for children. Doctors Without Borders set up mobile clinics in evacuation centers in Miyagi Prefecture – an isolated prefecture in the hardest-hit area – and many other charities joined.

And there were so many more organizations there.

Meanwhile, aid for Japan poured in from global corporations, individuals, and 130 regions and countries around the world. It turns out that, while Japan didn’t have a very well-developed nonprofit sector, in the decades preceding their own crisis, they’d been abundantly generous, as a nation, to their neighbors when they faced crises.

Japan was a country that helped its neighbors in crisis.

In 1999, when an earthquake shook Taiwan and killed 2,000 people, Japan sent rescue teams and $37 million in aid. The same year, they provided relief supplies to victims of violence in East Timor.

In the decade before the earthquake happened, they’d provided food, medical supplies, and other humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine. And when they were in trouble, help came – from nations, corporations and charities around the world.

Ten years later, some of these organizations are still in Japan, helping the nation rebuild. Healing from a disaster takes time. But today, while the world is watching the games, we wanted to remind you of the power of global generosity and thank all of you who played a role in the rebuilding.

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