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TOKYO: Starting on March 11, the day the earthquake and tsunamis devastated the Tohoku Region, the Soka Gakkai Buddhist association, which has a large grassroots network and local community centers throughout Japan, created emergency task forces at its headquarters in Tokyo and throughout the affected region.
A total of 4,500 people were provided with shelter immediately following the quake at the main Soka Gakkai Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City, and 40 other local centers throughout Tohoku as well as in Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures. As of March 27, around 200 people were still receiving shelter and food in these centers.
Soka Gakkai community centers in some of the worst-hit towns along the coast such as Ishinomaki, Kamaishi, Tagajo and Kesennuma provided safe havens from the tsunami for many people, despite partial flooding. Local Soka Gakkai volunteers were among the first to help reestablish initial contact with some isolated communities and bring in relief supplies by car.
Hundreds of volunteers have been continuing to help locate missing people and provide assistance to survivors. One local youth leader, Masatoshi Suzuki, was knocked unconscious when his house in Iwaki City was swept 500 meters by the force of the tsunami. As soon as he recovered consciousness, he began rescuing others trapped nearby, and he continues to play a leading role in relief efforts. "Since the quake I have felt keenly the importance of the 'never give-up' spirit that I have learned through Buddhism," he says.
Members from nearby Yamagata, Niigata, Aomori and Akita prefectures and Hokkaido have been regularly delivering truckloads of supplies including generators, fuel, foods and medicines, with the first vehicle arriving in Sendai City at 2am on March 12.
related article Survey of Youth Attitudes to Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Power The Soka Gakkai Chugoku Student Peace Committee released on August 4 the results of its 16th annual survey on young people's attitudes to peace and nuclear weapons in the Hiroshima region, in advance of the August 6 anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city. Soka Gakkai's emergency task forces have been closely coordinating their ongoing efforts with local authorities and community groups. The parking lot of the Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City was used as a base for 25 fire trucks from local fire stations engaged in fighting the fires that broke out in the days following the quake.
By March 27, the amount of relief assistance provided by Soka Gakkai through its networks in support of local relief efforts totaled around 100 million yen (US$1.2 million). This comprised:
22,000 items of clothing such as winter jackets, sweaters and shirts; 4,700 blankets and futons; 242,000 toiletry and related products including diapers, powdered milk, 77,000 "kairo" disposable heating pads and 60,000 portable toilets; 38,000 medical items including masks, cold medicine and bandages; 280,000 items of food and drink such as rice balls, preserved food and snacks; and 25,000 electrical-related items including radios, phone chargers, kettles, portable stoves, flashlights, batteries, and generators, as well as nearly 8,250 liters of fuel.
The day after the earthquake, many youth leaders and doctors and nurses from the organization's medical professionals' group immediately traveled to the area to assist with local relief efforts. Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada visited Sendai on March 17, to listen directly to the needs of evacuees, and Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda has sent frequent messages of support, praising the indomitable spirit of the people of Tohoku and the action they are taking to help others affected by the tragedy.
Soka Gakkai International Office of Public Information Executive Director Hirotsugu Terasaki comments, "Our relief activities will be ongoing for as long as people are in need. We are here, like many others, for the long run. We firmly believe in the Buddhist principle of 'turning poison into medicine' -- that it is possible to create something of value out of even the worst circumstances. Hope is one of the most precious commodities needed now."
Soka Gakkai International (SGI) groups around the world have also made donations in support of relief efforts in Japan. Soka Gakkai Malaysia donated US$346,700 equivalent to the Malaysian Red Crescent Society for the Japanese Red Cross's relief activities, the Taiwan Soka Association gave US$126,400 to support the Japanese government's relief activities, Singapore Soka Association donated US$160,000 to humanitarian NGO Mercy Relief, SGI-USA gave US$50,000 to AmeriCares, and SGI-Thailand donated US$50,000 to the Japanese Embassy. SGI organizations in Hong Kong, Macau, Canada and the Philippines have also made donations to disaster relief organizations including the Red Cross. Those in India and Brazil are also collecting donations.
related article Human Rights Education Film Launched at UN Office in Geneva The film "A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education," which uses case studies from India, Australia and Turkey to illustrate how human rights education can transform the lives of individuals and communities, was launched at the UN Office at Geneva on September 19, 2012. The Soka Gakkai lay Buddhist association has 8 million member households in Japan. It promotes peace, culture and education and has long experience of humanitarian relief activities in response to earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Further information and regular updates on Soka Gakkai's relief activities can be found at: http://www.sgi.org/about-us/focus-areas.html
Source: Soka Gakkai International
Contact: Joan Anderson
Office of Public Information
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