By HITOKI NAKAGAWA / Staff Writer
Instead of toiling away at her usual job, Emi Ishibashi is on the front lines helping the residents of tsunami-ravaged Oshima island, with the support and encouragement of her employer, Saga-based JSR Micro Kyushu.
Ishibashi is taking part in a volunteer program that also places a priority on exchange activities with residents of Oshima, located in Kesennuma Bay in Miyagi Prefecture. Some of the volunteers weep when they hear islanders’ stories about the disaster.
“I wanted to actually do something (for affected people) in addition to donating money,” said Ishibashi, 30, who invited two of her colleagues along since she wanted as many people as possible to know about the situation of the disaster-stricken areas.
A growing number of companies are supporting their employees who are engaged in volunteer activities in areas devastated by last year’s March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Many of them are recruiting volunteers from their employees, and subsidizing their transportation and accommodations expenses. The companies are aiming to offer long-term assistance to affected areas in cooperation with support organizations.
On Oshima island, volunteers are transferring 10 scallops, which have grown to about five centimeters, to each netted basket, one after another.
It is work vital for scallop cultivation. This year, however, the work has been delayed about a month compared to past years as cultivation tools were washed away in the March 11 tsunami.
The volunteer program was organized jointly by precision equipment maker Fuji Xerox Co. and synthetic rubber manufacturer JSR Corp. Participants also help cultivate seaweed and remove debris left behind by the tsunami.
The program is utilizing participants from a wide range of companies. Immediately after the March 11 disaster, Fuji Xerox considered sponsoring the effort. It held talks with Civic Force, a public organization that offers support in times of disasters.
Based on the talks, the Civic Force held negotiations with local support organizations in affected areas. After that, Fuji Xerox called on 154 companies to recruit volunteers for the program.
The 154 firms are those that have expressed their support to the United Nations Global Compact, which urges companies to tackle human rights and labor issues on a voluntary basis.
The volunteer program, organized by Fuji Xerox and JSR, started in September. Since then, about 400 employees have participated, including from companies such as Yokohama Rubber Co. and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.
“To convey our experiences to many people is also one of our activities,” said Tatsuhiro Kanoo, 35, a Takeda Pharmaceutical employee from Osaka.
According to a survey by member companies of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), a total of more than 180,000 employees from 259 companies have taken part in volunteer activities in affected areas.
Companies that recruit volunteers from their employees not only subsidize their expenses but also give guidance on the work and safety measures “in order to encourage those who want to do something but do not know how to do it,” a Fuji Xerox official said.
When Bridgestone Corp. started to dispatch its employees to affected areas in April 2011, officials of its safety management division gave them guidance. In addition, it arranged transportation and accommodations for family members of the employees of its group companies. As a result, a total of 606 people have participated in volunteer activities.
Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., a railway and bus operator based in Fukuoka, has transported its employees from the city to affected areas on its sightseeing buses.
In addition, Panasonic Corp. employees have volunteered to hold special classes in elementary schools in affected areas under the theme, “Realizing dreams.”
Jin Sato, mayor of disaster-hit Minami-Sanriku in Miyagi Prefecture, acknowledged the contributions, saying he knows it is difficult for company employees to be engaged in volunteer efforts.
“If companies offer their support, those people can continue to do so,” Sato said.