Japan: Performances by XUXU Bring Cheer to Disaster Zone

AAR JAPAN has been working with XUXU, an all-female a cappella quartet that has been singing at charity concerts organized by AAR JAPAN, and which also wrote songs to accompany AAR JAPAN’s picture book, “Not Mines, But Flowers”.

The Hometown Ambassadors of Ofunato City in Iwate Prefecture, XUXU visited Ofunato from May 15th – 17th, and again from August 5th – 8th to raise people’s spirits in one of the regions hardest-hit by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. Yuki YOSHIZAWA, AAR JAPAN Tokyo office staff, reports.

Live Concerts at Schools, Evacuation Centers, Facilities for the Elderly

XUXU held mini-concerts in 7 locations, including facilities supported by AAR JAPAN, with the hope of raising the spirits of people living in evacuation centers and children who lost their parents in the earthquake. XUXU matched their music to the age of each audience, singing everything from well-known favorites such as “Furusato” and the Mickey Mouse March to “Nada Sousou” and rhythmic African music. They also sang their original tune “OHLA! Sanma!”, the song that led to their being chosen as Ofunato’s Hometown Ambassadors. The song is about the saury (or “sanma”), a fish that is famously caught in Ofunato.

May 15th – XUXU sings at Camelia Hall, which is being used as an evacuation center. From left: Yuki, Asuka, Noriko, and Yumi.

May 16th – At Kura House Ofunato, a facility for the elderly. People clapped in time to the song “OHLA! Sanma!”, which is universally well-received throughout the city.

August 6th – Young children imitate Mickey Mouse at Suezaki Nursery School.

August 7th – A mini concert held at a shopping center, entitled “Prayers for Recovery”.

For the People Who are Working for Ofunato’s Recovery

We visited not only evacuation centers, but also a newspaper publisher and Ofunato City Hall. The people there had suffered from the earthquake just like everyone else, but even so, they have been working tirelessly for Ofunato’s recovery. Although we wanted to offer them a moment to relax, instead we found ourselves encouraged by their words, as they insisted that it was their duty to pass on information about the earthquake to future generations, and that overcoming the difficulties of today will strengthen Ofunato’s confidence in itself for the future. They even encouraged everyone in the country not to forget about the earthquake as time passes, and to keep getting involved in relief efforts and events.

May 15th – Delivering a message from China to the people in Ofunato City Hall. (At right is Yuki YOSHIZAWA of AAR JAPAN)

August 6th – XUXU sang at the offices of Tokai Shinposha, which publishes a newspaper for the area including Ofunato City, Rikuzen-takata City, and Sumita Town of Kesen County.

Summer Festivals Praying for Recovery

There are normally many festivals held in the Tohoku region throughout August, but due to the disaster, many of them were canceled or reduced in scale. XUXU took part in the remaining festivals, joining in the efforts of those who hoped to restore cheer to Ofunato.

As an a cappella group, as long as the four members are together, XUXU can sing anywhere without instruments or microphones. They sing not only in evacuation centers and schools, but even at the restaurants they visit, bringing tears to the eyes of their listeners. Wherever they are, XUXU’s members bring out the most in their music.

August 5th – XUXU sang aboard a ship at ”Never Give Up, Ofunato” a recovery festival that was attended by many fishermen.

August 6th – Tanabata Festival in the Sakari area of Ofunato. We also participated in the opening ceremony, sending balloons aloft with wishes for recovery.

Yuki YOSHIZAWA, AAR JAPAN Tokyo office
In charge of public relations and supporters at AAR JAPAN’s Tokyo office. Worked at a computer systems company for six and a half years after graduation from university. Joined AAR JAPAN in December 2007. (Born in Chiba Prefecture)



Japan: Supporting Food Services at Schools in Minami-Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture

After Earthquake, Difficulty in Procuring Food for School Lunch in Minami-Soma City

In Minami-Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture, it remains uncertain when elementary and junior high schools within 30 km of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant will be able to resume operations. Students who used to go to elementary and junior high schools in Minami-Soma’s Haramachi and Odaka Wards have been busing to 3 elementary schools and 1 junior high school in Kashima Ward, which is situated outside of the 30-km radius.

After the earthquake, Minami-Soma City had no choice but to ask the school lunch center in Kashima Ward to provide lunches on an extremely limited budget, with each lunch allotted as little as 200 yen in July. Although a portion of the emergency relief supplies provided to Minami-Soma City was used for school lunch until the end of June, the rice supply was exhausted, and the city was not able to purchase any more due to the budget restraints. The accident at the nuclear power plant has made it difficult to procure local vegetables, and there is no budget to purchase vegetables from other prefectures. With shortages in both rice and vegetables, it has become difficult to provide nutritionally balanced lunches for the increased number of students in the schools.

July 2011 – At lunchtime in Ishigami #2 Elementary School in Minami-Soma City, students enjoy rice delivered by AAR JAPAN.

Delivery of Rice and Vegetable Juice

Hearing of the lunch situation from the Minami-Soma Board of Education, from July 1st to 22nd AAR JAPAN delivered 2 tons of rice and 16,802 cans of vegetable juice (enough for 2 servings per week) to schools in Kashima Ward. Vegetable juice is easy to drink, and provides an essential nutritional supplement for students. 

Due to the increased number of students, some schools in Kashima Ward have experienced a shortage of classrooms, with screens being set up in the gym to create temporary classrooms to cover the shortfall. With so much changed in school, the students can take comfort in rice and vegetable juice at lunchtime.

The initial round of lunch service to Minami-Soma City was completed on July 22nd, with the city henceforth expecting to collect lunch fees from students’ parents. However, we still plan to rent a truck for lunch service from August 25th to September 24th at the start of the second semester.

After the earthquake, school lunches were Spartan until the end of May. The lunch pictured here consisted only of seasoned rice balls, milk, and processed cheese.

The menu improved after receiving support from all over the country. The lunch pictured here from July consisted of  bread, fried fish, fruit punch, honeyed jam, and vegetable juice.

Tokyo Headquarters
Based in the Tokyo Office since 2011. Worked at a private enterprise after graduating from university. Studied at graduate school in the UK before coming to AAR JAPAN.


We remain determined to continue to provide relief supplies for survivors in Fukushima Prefecture.


East Africa: Drought Forces Many to Flee from Somalia to Kenya

AAR JAPAN has been carrying out relief operations in the area affected by the severe drought in East Africa. On August 15th, we initiated our operations with the distribution of food to 520 households in Garissa, eastern Kenya, and have been conducting a survey on the effect of the drought in each region. The stories of the local people illustrate the severity of the drought.

Water, Food, Doctors Needed

On August 13th, Hiromi KAWANO, a member of the emergency relief team, interviewed Mr. Yussuf Maalim (80 years old), the elder of Nunow Village in eastern Kenya. “We lack water and food,” he said. “Although a water tank comes once a week, it’s not enough. We have been able to eat only corn flour once a day. We want meat and milk for our children. We used to get milk from our livestock, but all of our goats, cows, and camels died due to the drought.” As a result of the drought, reservoirs around the village have nearly dried up.

A lack of doctors is also a serious problem. One of Mr. Maalim’s children suffers from polio, but has not received any treatment, as the nearest hospital is 50 km away.

August 13th –“Our livestock died and we don’t have enough food,” reports Mr. Yussuf Maalim.

The Biggest Refugee Camp in the World

On August 16th, the emergency relief team visited the refugee camp in Dadaab, near to the Somalian border. Set up in 1991, this is said to be the biggest refugee camp in the world, with approximately 400,000 people living in three different camps. Most people here are Somalians who fled from civil war in their own country. Every day, 1,500 more people now arrive looking for respite from the drought.

Although all the camps in Dadaab are already full, new refugees keep arriving one after another, with many forced to live outside the camp due to the lack of space inside. Near the Dagahaley camp we met Mr. Nunou Dakat (70 years old), who came here last September to escape from the drought in Bardere, Somalia. It took 30 days for his 28 family members to walk here. “We used our donkey to carry our belongings, but it died after we arrived.” He has now been provided with corn and beans, but still has to walk 4 km to get water.

AAR JAPAN will continue relief operations while conducting surveys in Dadaab and Wazir in the northern region of Kenya. We express our sincere gratitude to our donors, and beg for your continued support.

August 16th – A refugee camp in Dadaab becomes a city with a population of 400,000.

August 16th – Ikuko NATORI (left) interviews Ms. Nunou Dakat (center).

August 16th – Children are given check-ups before entering a refugee camp.

                                                                                               Ikuko NATORI
                                                                     Overseas Division Chief, AAR JAPAN Tokyo office
Engaged in assistance to developing nations as staff for the United Nations and NGOs since 1999. With AAR JAPAN, in charge of mine action in Angola from 2006, and water and sanitation projects in Southern Sudan (now the Republic of South Sudan) from 2008. Overseas Division Chief at AAR JAPAN Tokyo office since 2010. Involved in various emergency relief efforts such as the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. (Born in Shiga Prefecture)
(Profile at the time of posting)



Japan: Handmade Tote Bags Please Survivors

AAR Bags Popular with Children and the Elderly

While engaging in relief efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake, AAR JAPAN was often told that the survivors needed small tote bags to carry their belongings. Many people had lost everything in the earthquake and tsunami, and small bags are convenient both for organizing belongings in shelters and for carrying relief supplies. In response, we called for volunteers to help make and donate tote bags for people in Tohoku, collecting roughly 5,000 bags in a very limited time.

To each tote bag, AAR JAPAN has been attaching a strap featuring our mascot, a stuffed rabbit named “Sunny-chan”, as well as including letters from the bags’ makers. To date, we have distributed roughly 4,000 bags to survivors in facilities for the elderly, evacuation shelters, and soup kitchens, where they have been well-received. The remaining 1,000 bags are already reserved, and we plan to send them in the near future. We heartily thank everyone who has supported this project.

“There’s also a letter in the bag!” At an intensive-care nursing home in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture. At left is Nahoko MIYAMOTO of AAR JAPAN.

July 28th - “Sunny-chan is cute!” The colorful bags are also very popular with children. This picture was taken at a day-care center in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture.

July 16th - The pile of bags quickly disappeared. This picture was taken at a soup kitchen in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture. At right is Haruka HINOSUGI of AAR JAPAN.

The recipients are pleased at not only by the bags, but also by the thoughtful letters inside.

August 15th - Tote bags were distributed in a shopping center constructed from container houses in the disaster zone. This picture was taken in Onagawa Town, Miyagi Prefecture.

July 23rd - “Bye-bye and thank you!” At a soup kitchen in Miyako City, Miyagi Prefecture. At right is Haruka HINOSUGI of AAR JAPAN. 

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East Africa: Relief Supplies Distributed to 520 Families

Food Distributed in Garissa, Kenya

August 14th – Hiromi KAWANO hands cooking oil to a family that came to receive relief supplies. (All photos by Yoshifumi KAWABATA)

AAR JAPAN has been carrying out relief efforts for the areas affected by the ongoing East Africa drought. On August 14th, AAR JAPAN completed its first food distribution operation in the eastern Kenyan town of Garissa. The targeted population included 520 families who had not received any relief support, largely nomads who have been forced to move due to the drought, as well as the elderly and persons with disabilities. We handed each family a bucket filled with 5 kg of rice, 5 kg of corn, 1 kg of sugar, and 1 liter of cooking oil.This project has been made possible through generous individual donations and through a grant from Japan Platform.

The nomads normally rely on their livestock to provide them with milk to drink, selling excess animals for money. With their livestock dying in the drought, they have lost their one source of income, while the price of food has only risen.

Ms. Gurly Aldi Ibrahim (32 years old)

“I lived in Laaq Dheere, 100 km from Garissa. The well went dry, and there is no river nearby. I loaded some belongings onto a camel and, with my 4 children, came to stay with my relative in Garissa. All the livestock died. This is the first time I’ve experienced such a terrible drought.”

Mr. Abdullahi Adow (35 years old)

“I got sick at the age of 18, and since then I have needed a wheelchair. My neighbors used to help me, but because of the drought everyone is in trouble, and nobody has anything to spare. I appreciate the food you’ve provided. Thank you very much.”

August 14th - Hiromi KAWANO (right) hands out relief supplies.

August 14th – Ikuko NATORI, AAR JAPAN staff, listens to Mr. Abdullahi Adow, who is confined to a wheelchair (center)

August 14th – Food is distributed to those who need it most, especially the elderly and persons with disabilities.

August 14th - Going home with buckets provided by AAR JAPAN.

August 13th – Preparing relief supplies. Each bucket is filled with food for one family.

August 13th - Relief supplies are loaded onto a truck in Nairobi. At center is Ikuko NATORI of AAR JAPAN.

Tokyo Office, Overseas Division Manager
Involved in assistance to developing nations as staff for the UN and NGOs since 1999. Involved in Mine Action in Angola with AAR JAPAN from 2006, then aided in Water Supply and Hygiene in southern Sudan (currently, South Sudan) from 2008. Working in Tokyo as an Overseas Division Manager since 2010. Involved in emergency relief efforts such as the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. (Born in Shiga Prefecture)


Japan: Workshop for Parents and Children – “What Can We Do for People in the Disaster Area?”

“What Would I Do if I Were Them…?”

On August 4th, at AAR JAPAN’s Tokyo office we held a workshop entitled “The Great East Japan Earthquake – Let’s consider what we can do for people in the disaster area”. Aimed at elementary and junior high school students on summer vacation, approximately 30 students and parents learned about how to implement emergency relief activities. Through a simulated scenario in which they bought and delivered relief supplies to evacuation centers, they were able to get a feeling for the challenges involved in emergency relief.

AAR JAPAN staff talked not only about emergency relief efforts related to the Great East Japan Earthquake, but also in relation to the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan floods of 2010, enabling the participants to think about how they can get involved in international cooperative efforts.

The workshop concluded with a tasting of snacks and tea from around the world. We express our sincere gratitude to everyone who participated.

We received the following comments from the participants:

“I enjoyed the workshop very much.” (7th grade)
“I could think about the feelings of people who deliver supplies as well as the feelings of people who are waiting for support in the affected areas.” (6th grade)
“It was good to think and discuss with other participants.” (8th grade)
“I enjoyed buying relief supplies.” (2nd grade)
“I gained good experience by looking at photos and listening to stories from staff who actually went to disaster areas.” (6th grade)
“It was a useful experience for children, as they realized the importance of thinking from others’ point of view.” (Parent)

In the workshop, participants think about what is required in the disaster area. (At right is Takehiro HOZUMI of AAR JAPAN)

Showing photos of AAR JAPAN’s relief efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Each group prepares to deliver relief supplies to the affected areas. “Any good ideas for the group’s name?”

Participants act as AAR JAPAN staff procuring relief supplies. With a budget of 30,000 yen, it’s difficult to decide what to buy!

Group leaders explain the supplies they bought and the reasons for their choices.

Parents take the role of survivors staying in evacuation centers and think about what they need.

Student participants compare their purchases with what their parents wanted. Can they deliver what is actually required?

There are still many people in need around the world. Here we illustrate the supplies that AAR JAPAN distributed after the Haiti Earthquake.

Participants enjoy tea and snacks from around the world after the workshop. Banana Chips from Laos are the most popular item!


East Africa: All the Livestock Died

Nomads at a Loss without Livestock

An emergency relief team consisting of 4 staff members of AAR JAPAN entered Kenya to carry out relief operations for people affected by the severe drought. On August 9th, Go IGARASHI and Hiromi KAWANO arrived in Garissa, in eastern Kenya, and immediately embarked on a preliminary survey and preparation for distribution of relief supplies.

KAWANO interviewed Ms. Istarlin Khalif (32 years old) in Waberi District in Garissa. Ms. Khalif had been leading a nomadic lifestyle with her husband and seven children, but all of their cows and goats all died due to the drought.

She said, “Now that our animals are dead, we can neither drink milk nor eat meat. We used to make income by selling livestock before, which is impossible now. Twice a day, I walk more than 3km from here to get water, but it’s still not enough. We also need rice, flour, oil etc.” Many of her neighbors were also forced to desert their houses and go begging in town, after their stock of food had run out.

Hiromi KAWANO, AAR JAPAN asks Ms. Khalif (right) about her situation.

Many local residents abandoned their houses to go into town to beg for food.

Based on the preliminary survey, the emergency relief team is planning to initiate relief operations by distributing supplies to approximately 500 households in Garissa. In the capital city Nairobi, Ikuko NATORI and Yoshifumi KAWABATA, members of the team, are arranging procurement of the supplies, which will be delivered to Garissa this weekend. The team also plans to do a survey in Dadaab, an area nearer to the Somalian border. AAR JAPAN would like to emphasize the gravity of the calamity that is engulfing the millions of people in the area, and we appeal for immediate and continuous support from our donors.

Go IGARASHI, AAR JAPAN (center) meets a female senior in Iftin District in Garissa

Hiromi KAWANO, AAR JAPAN Tokyo office
Joining AAR JAPAN in November 2009, she has been in charge of the Water Supply and Hygiene Project in Sudan and the HIV/AIDS Initiative Project in Zambia. Involved in emergency assistance during the Pakistan Floods and the Haiti Earthquake in 2010. (Born in Fukuoka Prefecture) (Profile at the time of posting)