by Joe Vo

NVIDIA is helping school kids in tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan get back on their feet, quite literally, with the opening of a multipurpose athletic field at a school in Kesennuma City. The effort is part of our Operation Kizuna efforts to spur recovery following last year’s disaster.

In the wake of the tragedy, Shishiori Junior High School’s original athletic field was converted into a temporary housing site, which likely will remain in place for up to five years. With local coordination provided by the nonprofit group Peace Winds Japan, donations from NVIDIA employees and others were used to construct a new field.

Mari Nagahara (a Tokyo-based member of our Operation Kizuna team) and I were fortunate enough to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week at the school’s new field. Its middle-schoolers will use it for physical education classes and as a practice area for its baseball, softball and soccer teams. A batting cage or backstop is still needed before the baseball and softball teams can play games, but it was a thrill to see kids using the field immediately after the opening ceremony.

This young baseball player has good form

We were joined at the ceremony by local city officials, including Kesennuma City’s mayor, and by reporters from local newspapers and regional affiliates of national broadcasters.

To a large extent, the field was made possible by the willingness of six local landowners to provide the school with a five-year lease at no cost – the school principal’s determination was a key factor in this deal. Discussions with the landowners started last winter and the construction of the field was completed in about two weeks at a cost of ¥10 million (approximately $125,000).

We are proud of NVIDIA and our fellow employees, who pledged nearly $2.75 million to Operation Kizuna. Of these funds, $250,000 was directed at helping young survivors of the tragedy. Through global aid agency Mercy Corps’ art therapy and sports programs, the focus has been on helping children deal with the mental and emotional effects of their experience.

In addition to supporting youth programs like Shishiori’s new athletic field, NVIDIA employee donations have been used to provide local entrepreneurs with seed capital to restart their businesses and develop new products and services. These range from a kimono cleaning and dyeing service, a daycare center, a “peace jam” made of vegetables purchased from local farmers and even a new tea from the leaves of mulberry trees farmed in the area to grow silkworms.

The NVIDIA donation directed toward this small business recovery program is the largest amount Mercy Corps has ever received from a single corporate donor.

The programs being funded by NVIDIA’s donations are not only helping revitalize the local economy by restoring businesses and creating new jobs, but also directly serves the children in these communities. Perhaps most importantly, however, they are restoring the hope that, over time, these communities and its families will once again prosper.