In the months following the tragic March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, the people of Hawaii have worked together to raise funds to support disaster relief efforts. From clothing drives to the sold-out Kokua for Japan concert, from t-shirt sales to benefit dinners, a statewide fund raising campaign appropriately named Aloha for Japan quickly emerged. The millions of dollars raised – approximately six million at last count – is helping to alleviate the financial burden the natural disasters created. And now a project called the Aloha Initiative is offering another kind of relief.
On July 4, Hawaii host families welcomed nearly 70 Japanese families affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The fresh air, Aloha spirit and peaceful pace of life in the islands have long attracted visitors from around the world. To many, Hawaii is a place to relax and re-energize. For these Japanese families, it is a desperately needed escape from the realities of radiation, destroyed homes, and lost lives.
With an estimated 450,000 Japanese people displaced due to the disaster and radiation risk, the founders of the Aloha Initiative – Keith Regan, Lynn Araki-Regan, Keith Powers, and Michiko Ishida-Powers – hope to share the Aloha spirit with as many of these displaced people as possible. They have begun to create a collaborative community, inviting applications from those in Japan seeking respite and those in Hawaii willing to open up their homes. And they have been overwhelmed by the positive response and support from corporate sponsors, local families, and Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa.
Lynn Araki-Regan expressed her gratitude in an interview with Maui Now, stating, “When we started the Aloha Initiative…we could not have imagined the tremendous outpouring of Aloha and support that we have received. We are very grateful to Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa for his support, as well as our partners First Hawaiian Bank, Japan Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, Relativity Media, and Mana Foods for stepping forward to make this dream of ours a reality. They truly embody the spirit of Aloha”.
The Japanese visitors have also expressed their appreciation and the hope they have found in Hawaii. Miyumi Shinkawa and her daughter were one of the families whose trip to Hawaii was made possible by the Aloha Initiative. Shinkawa told KITV, “Everything they’ve done makes us think more positively in not turning back and going on with our lives”. Being able to step outside, breathe fresh air and drink tap water – basic things many of us here in Hawaii take for granted – are joys that these families can experience, thanks to the Aloha Initiative.
While their visas limit Japanese visitors’ stays to 90 days, the Aloha Initiative hopes to carry on the project beyond this time frame and welcome additional Japanese families, as long as there is a need and people willing to help. Given the hundreds of thousands of displaced people and years of disaster recovery ahead, it is clear that the need will remain for some time. What has also become clear through this project and the outpouring of love and support is that the Aloha spirit is equally strong and enduring.
To hear three survivors from Japan share their experiences, join the free presentation hosted by the Aloha Initiative on Saturday, July 23rd from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Kahului Hongwanji Mission, Maui.
To find out more about the Aloha Initiative and how you can help, please visit their website.