JET Alum Cycling for Tohoku
We all know what happened in northeast Japan on March 11, 2011. The devastation remained front page news for weeks following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Now—more than a year later—news of Tohoku must be actively sought out by anyone wanting to know what is going on up there. Tohoku has been relegated to the back burner of the international news cycle.
As the drama in Tohoku unfolded during the spring months of 2011, the world’s media understandably focused on the devastation, the death toll, and the threat of nuclear radiation escaping the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. A less generally reported catastrophe during the early weeks and months following the disaster was the creation of a new wave of orphans in Tohoku. If this crisis was overlooked during the initial period of the tsunami, it has now become close to invisible. Agencies such as Smile Kids Japan and Living Dreams toil in near-obscurity to address the crisis with little attention and limited funds.
Enter Tohoku Forward, the one-man project of JET alumnus Roy Moneyhun (Mie-ken, 1996-98) of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, USA. With Tohoku Forward, Moneyhun hopes to reach thousands of potential donors around the world, most of whom can be found in the JET alumni community.
Many orphans of the Tohoku disaster are babies, meaning that they will need support for at least another fifteen to eighteen years. “As the years ahead pass,” Moneyhun says, “the plight of the Tohoku orphans will continue to move further and further from the public eye, but the needs of these children will remain for a long time to come.” 18 year old tsunami survivor Daichi Sato, who lost his father in the disaster and who ran in the 2012 Los Angeles Marathon to raise awareness of the orphan issue, stated it perfectly when he was quoted in The Japan Times Online: “At this point I’m nearly an adult, but others are young children who will need support from here on out.”
In order to attract as much attention as possible to the Tohoku orphan issue, Moneyhun has decided to ride his bicycle from his home in Jacksonville Beach to his wife’s hometown of Kyoto–a journey of what may amount to 5,000 miles. The group whose attention he primarily hopes to gain (though certainly not exclusively) is the worldwide JET alumni community–now estimated to be more than 55,000 strong. “If all 55,000 of us contribute something—no matter how humble—the total will certainly raise enough to make a huge impact.”
He seems to be off to a great start, as he has already earned the attention and the endorsement of the Tokyo-based non-profit organization Living Dreams. “When Living Dreams gave Tohoku Forward the thumbs-up, I was elated. I had been working on the project for a few weeks when I contacted them on the advice of Michael Maher-King [founder of Smile Kids Japan]. This started a dialogue. When they eventually responded positively, I was extremely happy. I still am.”
Moneyhun’s liaison at Living Dreams, Mana Yamawaki, also feels positive about Tohoku Forward. “Roy exudes passion and we can feel his determination to make this project work….we feel the project has much potential for success, though it is still in its early stages. The Living Dreams Team is excited to be part of this endeavor in supporting Roy and Tohoku Forward in the little way we can!”
With the total cost of the bicycle journey itself already covered, all money raised by Tohoku Forward will go directly to Living Dreams, who will process and manage the funds.
Moneyhun’s bicycle trek will commence in May of 2014 and will conclude in the fall. For now, he is urging everyone to review the Tohoku Forward website at www.tohokuforward.org for details. The project can also be found on Facebook under the name Tohoku Forward.
Interested parties should be aware that donations to the project will open in May of 2013, one year prior to the kickoff of the bicycle journey.
The list of potential supporters is of course not limited to JET alumni. “Former JETs have families, friends, and coworkers, and those friends have families, friends, and coworkers,” says Moneyhun. He sees the list of possible donors as unlimited and asks that anyone reading this article tell everyone that they know. “The key to the success of the Tohoku Forward project is reaching as many people as possible.” With more than 55,000 alumni worldwide and with more than eighteen months left to reach them, Moneyhun believes that Tohoku Forward could reach as many as 500,000 individuals.
Why ride a bicycle halfway around the world? Moneyhun’s reasons for establishing the Tohoku Forward project are simple. “I’ve been riding bicycles all my life, cycling seriously for nearly thirty years, and I’m a father. A few months ago, I realized that this is what I’ve been training for. Japan was very good to me, as it was to most, if not all, JETs. This is my way of trying to give back.”