After Japan quake, fund makes local kids’ college hopes real

By Stacey Umezawa / Starbucks Newsroom

Hiroki Endo was playing baseball at his high school when his world turned upside down.

It was the afternoon of March 11, 2011, and a 9.0 earthquake and a massive tsunami were striking the coastal region of northern Japan, where he lived with his father and grandparents.

He felt the ground start to shake and ran to the center of the field where nothing could fall on him. By the time it stopped and the tsunami receded, more than 18,000 people had been killed or were missing. One of them was his father, whose body was never found.

It was the day where one life ended for Endo – but he also found the stirrings of his life’s purpose.

Now a college student, Endo vividly recalls what he saw after the quake when he made his way home: smashed buildings, mud and debris covering the town, power lines fallen. “I felt like I had come back to a different world,” he said. Many, including his family, didn’t have access to clean water, electricity or gas.

“Dealing with the devastation was a turning point in my life, because I realized the importance of the basic things in our lives, like electricity, clean water, and human relationships.” Endo said. “I want to build and improve electrical systems that make communities safer and provide power in areas that don’t have it in the future. This is my dream, and I feel in my heart that my father would encourage me to make this dream come true.”

But like many of the thousands who lost a parent, Endo thought he’d have to give up many of his hopes for the future. College seemed out of reach with his father’s death and no way to pay for it.

That’s where the Michinoku Future Fund came in. Formed by Kagome Co., Ltd., Calbee, Inc., and ROHTO Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., as a response to the quake, the fund provides scholarships for students like Endo who lost one or both parents due to the quake. Starbucks Japan helps support the fund through the Hummingbird Starbucks Card, introduced in September 2012. Each year, the company offers 100,000 of the Hummingbird Starbucks Cards and donates a portion of the proceeds to the fund. So far, Starbucks Japan and its customers have helped raise more than $1 million.

“We wanted to partner with our customers to help the youth achieve their dreams and felt the Michinoku Future Fund was the perfect way to do that,” said Emiko Sakai of Starbucks Japan. “We were happy to help give students the opportunity to pursue their college education.”

The Michinoku staff worked with 400 high schools in the impacted areas to make the students aware of the full-tuition scholarships up to $30,000 USD per year that were made available to those who aspired to go to college or vocational school.

The fund has provided scholarships for more than 630 students so far – and will continue to provide them for another 20 years until the last child who lived in that area at the time of the quake graduates from college. Takayoshi Naganuma, who directs the fund, anticipates that the fund will need to raise $45 million USD to support an additional 1,300 total students.

Students don’t need to pay back any of the funds, but they are asked to look for opportunities to help others someday.

“Our only request was to pay the kindness forward when they meet someone in the future who needs help,” he said.

Endo and other scholarship recipients meet with the Michinoku staff members yearly to update them about their lives and talk about any challenges that they might be facing. They also get together with fellow recipients three times a year to connect with peers who can relate to what they’re going through.

“The Michinoku staff is like my family,” said Endo. “Every time I meet with them, it feels like home.”

Endo is now living in Tokyo with friends and majoring in electrical engineering at Shibaura Institute of Technology. After he graduates in March 2018, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in electrical system design and management.

“I’m grateful to the Michinoku Future Fund for their care and financial support,” he said. “This scholarship has changed my life and gave me the chance to pursue my dreams.”

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