Excellence award: In Japan, a team unites to remember those who need ongoing help

Kaori Namba, co-leader of Team Tasuki
Kaori Namba, co-leader of Team Tasuki, presents STEM information to the
next generation who will continue the recovery efforts from the Great East
Japan Earthquake.
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 undersea megathrust earthquake hit the east coast of Japan. It was the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since record-keeping began. Referred to in Japan as the "Great East Japan earthquake," the shaking and subsequent 133-foot high tsunami left the country devastated and more than 4.4 million households without electricity and 1.5 million households without water.

Individual IBMers in Japan sprang into action, forming Team Tasuki to coordinate the application of their individual talents and skills to the recovery effort. For their sustained work and dedication, the group has won an IBM Volunteer Excellence Award.

One of the team’s founders, Kaori Namba, an IBM software developer, explains how the team came together.

"In May 2011, I visited the disaster-affected area of the Great East Japan earthquake as a volunteer for disaster recovery. All sufferers I met during the activity said ‘Please do not forget this disaster, the affected areas, and us.’ I promised to myself to continue supporting the areas. Many volunteers in IBM Japan had similar experience and the same thought. So we founded Tasuki team to continue supporting activities as long as the affected areas require."

Unite to get it done

Each volunteer member of Team Tasuki supports a particular relief or civic organization, and regularly reports back to the full team to generate additional thinking and collaborate on how to address problems. The approach allows the team to work on a range of issues.

Akihito Imoto, the other co-founder of Team Tasuki and an IBM project manager, puts it this way, "I wanted to help restore the affected area to its former state so that people who lived there could come back to their own homes as soon as possible. Each team member has his own, but similar aspiration, and I knew together we could inspire each other to continue this important work."

Yuto Fukui, an IBM software engineer and Team Tasuki member, believes working as a team lets each individual accomplish more. "As a team, we can do something bigger than what we can do alone—and we can also ask every IBMer to help if needed."

The team is loosely structured. Many of the volunteers were already very active helping with disaster recovery. Yuka Kurosawa, who is part of the SAP alliance sales team at IBM, was volunteering with CARE-WAVE an organization that communicates about challenges in the world, such as starvation, poverty, and conflicts, through a musical called “CARE-WAVE AID.”

"Our CARE-WAVE team started volunteering less than two weeks after the quake. While I was involved in this activity, I also wondered how other IBMers were helping people who were victims of the quake and tsunami. This is how I learned about and joined the group," says Yuka.

Another team member, Taku Sasaki, an IBM software developer, was raised in Sendai, an area that was hit directly by the tsunami. He returned home to begin helping clear away debris. "Before the earthquake, few Japanese served as volunteers. But after we saw the situation that nature wrought, many people began helping."

Working across organizations

The team works with six organizations, including civic, not-for-profit and governmental groups. Often they use IBM Activity Kits, such as the TryScience Toolkit, to help teach children about STEM topics.

"Education for kids is crucial in speeding recovery from such a big disaster. As the kids grow up, they will take ownership of the future recovery, so providing STEM educational activities to the Disaster-affected areas is a must," says Kaori Namba.

Volunteer Kaname Toba is part of Team Tasuki, as well. Toba-san works at IBM as a staff manager of strategy and operations, and focuses on providing E-Week activities to kids and also emotional support to the citizens of the affected areas. "I believe the support we are providing will make a difference to both the citizens and to us. I feel like the volunteering has filled my spirit."

Inspiring future volunteers

All of the team members feel their service makes a difference both in their communities and in their jobs at IBM.

"Some people hesitate to participate in volunteer activities, but I believe if someone requests help and another person supports, it is always a good thing. It doesn't matter if a volunteer gets a thankful word, good experience, or anything else. If someone is helped by the activity, it's enough," says co-founder Kaori Namba

Yuto Fukui says, "You don't need a special reason to volunteer. We can try volunteer work instead of reading books and shopping on weekends."

"Sometimes I am so engrossed in working in the Cloud and IT, that I forget myself and others," says Takanobu Mori, an IBM systems administrator. "But volunteering reminds me to consider people and to remember that all the technology I work on is actually for people."

Team Tasuki includes, co-leaders Akihito Imoto and Kaori Namba, along with Yuka Kurosawa, Takanobu Mori, Yuto Fukui, Akemi Terada, Taku Sasaki, Kaname Toba, Miki Kusunoki, Keiko Fujii, and former IBMer Manabu Takeda.

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Read about IBMers whose volunteer efforts are improving communities around the world.

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