We take a look at ASIJ’s COVID-19 response and the creation of the Musubi Project
Lead Image: Max Murakami-Moses ’22 and Ryosuke Suzuki started the Musubi Project to help the local community (Kayo Yamawaki/ Tokyo American Club INTOUCH magazine)
“I’ve seen many communities uniting around the world to fight COVID-19, whether through donating food to local shelters which house those most impacted by the pandemic, creating grocery delivery services for the elderly, or simply encouraging healthcare workers by cheering them on every night out their windows. It’s become clear to me that uniting as a community and watching out for each other is the best way to overcome the pandemic,” says Max Murakami-Moses ’22. From this initial desire to reach out to help those most severely impacted by COVID-19, the Musubi Project—Food, Family, Friendship was created.
“ASIJ is determined to use the pandemic as an opportunity to learn, evolve, and align ourselves with fidelity to our mission, core values, and vision,” says Jim Hardin, Head of School. With that in mind ASIJ created a COVID-19 Response Fund to support initiatives such as the Musubi Project that help the wider community, address emerging financial needs in our own school community and impact ASIJ’s sustainability as we respond to the pandemic.
The first initiative funded through this approach is the Musubi Project. The word 結び means “to tie,” or “to connect” in English and the same word written with a different kanji can mean “rice ball.” The goal of the project is to deliver meals to families in crisis, thereby connecting with our local communities and establishing on-going relationships and partnerships. The project began on April 25th with a delivery of 55 meals, 20 5kg bags of rice and 10 coloring books to a local facility that supports families and children in crisis. NHK’s morning new show Ohayo Nippon followed the launch of the project, reporting on how the school is connecting with the surrounding community in this time of need.
In the initial stage of the project the meals are being produced by a neighborhood restaurant that has struggled since the government’s declaration of a state of emergency, with the long term goal being to have ASIJ's cafeteria help provide food in the future. The project is also supported by a local family-owned rice shop that has been in Fuchu since 1923. Thanks to this rice shop, the Musubi Project has also been able to donate freshly processed rice to local families in need. Alumnus Dean Aizawa ’12 helped things get started with a special design he created for the rice bags. “We hope to support 20-40 families through the Musubi Project, including providing additional supplies the children may need,” says Ryosuke Suzuki, ASIJ's Director of Strategic Partnerships. "Another facility has also contacted me, and they are very interested in receiving meals and rice and so we hope to expand the project there as well."
“The families and children have been so grateful for the meals and supplies the Musubi Project has been providing,” Suzuki reports. “While we continue to provide meals and needed supplies to people in the local community, the Musubi Project has also made a commitment to donate needed supplies to Second Harvest Japan. ASIJ and Second Harvest Japan have a long relationship, and we are happy to support them through the Musubi Project.”
An often overlooked fact that the project aims to highlight is that there is a significant poverty rate among children in Japan. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, this means that today, one in seven children in Japan lives in relative poverty, with that increasing to one in two for single-parent households. “The families and children we are supporting through the Musubi Project were living under tough and challenging circumstances even before the COVID-19 pandemic,” notes Suzuki.
“The Musubi Project fits perfectly with what I strive to achieve as the Director of Strategic Partnerships,” says Suzuki. “One of the key responsibilities for this role is to identify and develop strategic partnerships for the school that result in transformational experiences for our students. ASIJ is committed to developing lasting partnerships and relationships with the local community based on respect and trust.” Projects like this allow ASIJ to be an active member of the local community and some local partners have already approached Suzuki to ask how they can work with the School. “I’m excited to see how these partnerships will lead to various curriculum-related programs in different divisions in the future,” he says.
At the time of publication 2748 meals had been provided as part of the program in addition to many other types of support. The Musubi Project is supported by donations to the Annual Fund: ASIJ COVID-19 Response.