The Spread of Participatory Aid
I was moved and filled with gratitude during the Christmas season last year as a mountain of beautiful Christmas cards from all over the world piled up around me. Photographers from the Yomiuri Shimbun worked diligently to capture this amazing outpouring of kindness. I would like to thank everyone for their participation and support. This Christmas season, I would like people to send Christmas cards of comfort and cheer not only for children in Miyagi, as was done last year, but also for children in Fukushima who have suffered great hardships due to the harrowing nuclear disaster that occurred there.
Mailing address for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Xmas Cards from Friends around the World:
Mr. Choji Sugihara
Shoshi High School
Koriyama City, Fukushima Pref. 963-8004
People all over the world were shocked and saddened by the severity of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which took the precious lives of almost twenty thousand people, and took part in massive emergency relief efforts. Since then, many people have continued to be deeply concerned about the disaster areas, wondering if there was anything else they could do. There was a powerful response to my call for cards last year, sending ripples of heartfelt sympathy and support throughout the world with amazing momentum. Thanks to the nearly thirty thousand Christmas cards I received from 48 countries, I was able to send Christmas cards to every student in the 106 elementary and junior high schools in the area in Miyagi prefecture which was severely damaged by the disaster.
For many years, I have looked at the use of participatory development in addressing problems of international cooperation. The deepest impression this project has left on me is the tremendous power of participatory aid, with its combination of knowledge and action, emotion and will. When a global disaster occurs, each citizen of the earth actively participates in efforts to support the affected areas as his or her personal problem, immediately taking action with firm resolve, deep wisdom and genuine kindness. It seems that the basic belief that human life is more precious than anything else and that we should care for and help each other, which represents a set of values shared by all global citizens, is firmly embedded in all of us.
I have received reports of independent initiatives taking place all over the world, sparked by wonderful ideas. My messages in Japanese have been translated into Chinese, Italian, Russian, Swedish and various other languages and immediately circulated across the Internet. Volunteer disaster relief programs that were in operation at the time of the disaster have been resumed, and card-writing events and other supportive activities have been held. Top city officials have attended the events, and press conferences have been held. People living overseas have been working hard to gather Christmas cards, taking full advantage of their information networks, out of the regret that this initiative should have been initiated by them who have nothing else to do for support. Their participation in these activities has not been requested of them, but has been done of their own volition, based on their own ideas and strong desire—an outpouring of enthusiasm and drive. Within Japan as well, I was overwhelmed by the amazing determination, empathy and dynamism of one Japanese governor who contacted me immediately after the announcement, saying “I’ll write cards!” I was deeply touched when the governor’s cards arrived, one after another, sporting excellent ideas with distinctive features of the prefecture, such as a picture of Ryoma Sakamoto, a Japanese patriot from the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, as the leader of a cheering squad with his fan raised in support of the quake-stricken areas. Buddhist temples such as the Nishi Hongwanji, Sojiji and Hasedera temples have offered thoughtful shikishi (decorative paper) bearing messages of consolation and encouragement, which became fitting memorial services for the people who passed away.
The Shift in Consciousness of Children in Disaster Areas Who Received the Cards and the Heightened Awareness of Disaster Prevention among Those Who Sent Them
I received a stream of gracious letters of thanks from the principals of the elementary and junior high schools in the disaster areas, describing the joy and gratitude of the children upon receiving the cards and expressing their regret that the children could not directly write back to the senders of the cards, as the schools had still not completely recovered from the chaos at that time. I was very happy to hear that the children were feeling more positive now and “hope[d] to overcome their difficulties with the help of their friends and one day be able to repay everyone for their kindness and support others.” At the card exhibition area, one child asked a staff member who had traveled to schools in Hungary collecting cards in person how she could become more like her. When the child was asked why she had asked the question, she replied, “Even though they don’t know us, people all over the world have sent us messages and helped and encouraged us. Someday, I want to be able to help suffering people somewhere in the world too.” We hope that these cards will encourage some of the students to become capable professionals in the field of international cooperation and work for the welfare of the global community.
At one elementary school, the entire student body wrote and sent us a massive amount of Christmas cards. The students then independently decided to broadcast announcements at the school for everyone to donate their allowance money and give it to the children in the disaster areas, and they ended up raising a substantial sum. Recently, there have been many detailed reports about the looming threat of major earthquakes, emphasizing the importance and necessity of disaster prevention education. It seems, however, that children will gain a clearer and more solid understanding of disaster prevention if, instead of just hearing about it in the classroom, they personally take action—writing cards and participating in other activities on behalf of children like themselves who have actually been through a disaster and suffered serious losses. The Christmas card-writing project has, it seems, provided students with an excellent opportunity to do just that.
The Sense of Isolation Fukushima Residents Feel and Upcoming Christmas Card Exhibitions
In an attitude survey of Fukushima residents, eighty percent of the respondents said that Fukushima was isolated from the outside world and that they were very worried about their children. For this year’s project, a number of long-term Christmas card exhibitions will be held throughout Fukushima prefecture to help the parents and children there become more aware of the warm feelings of solidarity felt by people throughout Japan and the world for them. A large-scale facility that is regularly used for children’s events and exhibitions, called ComCom: A Facility of Fukushima City for Nurturing the Dreams of Children, has agreed to jointly host the card exhibition events, with the cooperation of the deputy mayor, and we are planning to exhibit and preserve the beautiful cards we receive from other countries. I would once again like to invite you to participate in this project and hope that many of you will.
Professor Emeritus, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: International Economics, Development Economics, International Business Management
Born in Wakayama Prefecture in 1937. Graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Keio University in 1961.
Graduated from the Master’s Program, Graduate School of Economics, Keio University in 1963.
Finished the required course work at the Doctorate Program, Graduate School of Economics, Keio University, 1967.
Became a Research Associate, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University.
Became the Dean, Graduate School of Economics, Chuo University from 2002 to 2006.
Retired and became a Professor Emeritus in 2008.
Current study interests cover various issues related to the international economy. In particular, he focuses on problems regarding poverty reduction in Asia and Africa, investigating development strategies from a broad perspective through community development programs and other case studies in the field of Asia. Major publications include Studies on Development: Intelligence of the Mind—, Social Development and Human Development [Kaihatsuron: Kokoro No Chisei – Shakai Kaihatsu To Ningen Kaihatsu] (Chuo University Press, 2006).