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Hunger Free World

This month's Close UP features Hunger Free World (HFW), a nongovernmental international organization dedicated to creating a world free of hunger. Founded in 2000, HFW is based in Japan and is currently operating in four countries overseas including Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Uganda. For this interview, Mr. Kei Ishikawa, a fundraising officer of the organization, introduced us to the organization's two programs, "unused postcard redemption campaign" and "counting volunteer," to encourage more people to take part in an international cooperation.

Mr. Kei Ishikawa

Mr. Kei Ishikawa,
a fundraising officer

We understand that HFW operates by focusing on four principle activities.

School children eating lunch ©HFW

A.Our activities are focused on development project, youth development, awareness raising, and advocacy. Our overseas development project aims to help recipients build a hunger-free community on their own by providing comprehensive programs for their independent living, including providing meals, health and hygiene education, improving literacy, and so on. For youth development, we provide support through the Youth Ending Hunger, the HFW's youth group, in each recipient country to foster leadership among local youth for their future. YEH has its division in Japan, YEH Japan. Its members, who are mainly college students, plan and organize their own fundraisers, events, seminars and such. As for awareness raising programs, we have been making various efforts to increase understanding among Japanese people about global hunger. Lastly, we were very active in our advocacy work during the Hokkaido Toyako Summit (G8) in 2008, although we need to spend more time and energy to promote such activities.

It is not always easy to understand the reality of hunger for us while living in Japan.

A.Our first approach is to show Japanese people how we eat every day and how much food we waste. After that, we ask them to think about global hunger and the world food situation, what kind of support is currently available, and so on. People do not have a clear picture about world hunger because they are either misinformed or simply because information has not reached them. It is our role to create more familiar ways to promote the awareness. The "ending hunger game" is one of our awareness raising tools. By playing this simulation game, people experience the reality of our world that there is a huge gap between rich and poor, and where you are born determines whether you are rich or poor. Or that equally distributing food around the world is ideal but is quite difficult to achieve in reality. What is important for us is to offer as many opportunities as possible that make it easy for anyone to get involved. Our "unused postcard redemption" campaign is designed that way so that it initially encourages people to help recycle valuable resources and then serves as a way to make people aware that they can contribute to reducing world hunger.

How did you start the unused postcard redemption campaign?

A.HFW's predecessor was a Japan branch of a nongovernmental organization based in the United States, which had a decent funding. However, after breaking away from that organization and becoming independent as HFW in 2000, we quickly fell short of funds. We searched for a resolution and came up with an idea of asking for donations of unused postcards and cashing them in to use as funding. When we started this campaign, it was also the time when ideas of "recycling" and "effective use of resources" were becoming more common among people. We eventually collected quite a number of unused postcards, postage stamps, telephone cards, and such, which provided us with a significant source of funds. Since then, we have been continuing the campaign along with updates and improvements, and the amount collected has been continuously growing for the last ten years. During the campaign we ran from January through May last year, the total cashed value of the collection became approximately 90 million yen. Thanks to this successful campaign, we have been able to maintain a high self-financing rate around 80 to 90%.

A pile of donated unused postcards ©HFW

How do you use the collected unused postcards to help reduce hunger?

A simple illustration shows how the donation is directly connected to support ©HFW

A.Donated unused postcards and postage stamps are sent to our office and are sorted and counted by our "counting volunteer" members. Our staff members take the counted postcards to post offices and kinken shop (discount ticket/coupon shop) to cash them in. The cashed funds are used to operate our various projects. A report on our last year's campaign is available on our website. To give you some simple examples, one unused postcard can provide a bowl of porridge in Burkina Faso. Four 1000-yen gift certificates can pay a monthly salary of a literacy teacher in Benin. And, to everyone's surprise, one used Disney Resort Passport can buy one pain relief pill for pregnant women and five of them can provide one school lunch in Bangladesh.

What other items do you collect for the campaign besides unused postcards and postal stamps?

A.In addition to used Disney Resort Passport tickets, as I mentioned earlier, we accept gift certificates, foreign currencies, used video games, DVDs, precious metals, and such. Every year we review what we should be collecting. We used to collect used telephone cards but have stopped because their value has gone down. Our primary focus is how efficiently we can use each donation for support. The key of this campaign is that it highlights things that have not been used at home or are not really worth saving. People who may not be ready to donate money may feel comfortable sending used Disney Resort tickets knowing they will be used for a good purpose.

What are the backgrounds of the supporters of the campaign?

A.We have many female supporters who have a concern about food in their own daily living. Especially, those who are raising children have great interest in dietary education, "local production for local consumption" system, and such. These mothers are making efforts to feed their own children with safe food, and this makes it easier for them to view the hardship that starving children around the world are going through. It is also women in many cases who take charge of recycling/reusing resources at home and therefore know where used postcards and stamps are kept in the house. I believe these are part of the reason why we have many female supporters for the campaign.

A mother feeds her baby with a fortified porridge provided by HFW ©HFW

Why do you think the campaign has successfully gained such wide support?

A friendly illustration for the monthly donation program ©HFW

A.Eating is a joy for anyone throughout the world. That's why we always use photos that show people enjoying eating food with smiles for our websites and brochures. Our positive message, which asks people a sharing of a joy of eating instead of sympathy for those starving, may have attracted more public support. We also have a monthly donation program that starts from 1000 yen per month. We call it hitotsubu bokin, which means "donation of one piece of rice." To promote the program, we use a friendly copy and a softly-toned illustration using more hiragana. In a way, it is not a typical PR method taken by an NGO.

Tell us about what "counting volunteers" do.

A.We run the used postcard redemption campaign from January through May every year. During that period, we receive postcards and postage stamps that are worth several tens of million yen, and the number of donated items we have to count is overwhelming. To do this task of sorting and counting the donations, we rely on our volunteer members. During the campaign, cardboard boxes of donated items are piled up in our office, and 4 to 5 volunteer members continue to do their work every day. As many as 20 volunteer members can be working at the same time. Many volunteer members who can help us during daytime on weekdays are housewives, while those who have their own work on weekdays come to help us on weekday evening or on Saturdays. We ask our volunteers to help us at least once in two weeks, but the scheduling is basically up to each volunteer.

Postage stamps sorted by volunteer members

Can anyone without experience in international cooperation become a counting volunteer member?

A.Of course. Many of our counting volunteer members chose to help us because the work is simple and the schedule can be very flexible. We try to make a comfortable working environment for volunteers by choosing a bright office with plenty of sunlight through windows and using warm orange color for office furniture. Since the counting volunteers are asked to do repetitive work, we play music or turn on the radio. We would like to continue to provide a welcoming space for volunteer members to make them feel like they want to come back.

Counting volunteers sort donated items ©HFW

Lastly, please give a message to our readers.

At HFW's office in Iidabashi

A.HFW and its programs are made possible because of a number of individual supporters as well as volunteer members. We would like to continue to provide as many choices of opportunities as possible for our supporters so that they can continue their support to our activities within a range they can afford. Our unused postcard redemption campaign and the counting volunteer program are both very easy to start for anyone. For many people, nongovernmental organizations may sound like a serious place and not so welcoming, but we are making efforts to lower those barriers as much as possible. We are also planning various fun events related to food, such as African food event and curry making workshop, so please join if any of our programs should interest you.

Join HFW's monthly event—it's fun and open to everyone!

■Kagurazaka Charity Night
Enjoy great African foods and drinks & experience Africa. Participants pay their own foods and drinks. 20 yen for each 500 yen of your food/drink order will be donated to help support programs in Africa. The event is scheduled on Dec. 13 (Tue.) this month.
■Nabadiganta Cooking Workshop & Curry Party
Enjoy making curry and support Bangladesh. Raised funds (net) will be used for a program to support independent living in Bangladesh. The event is scheduled on Dec. 24 (Sat.) this month.
For more information about the HFW events, please visit the official HFW website event information page (in Japanese only):