An online service that helps match volunteers to needs in times of disaster has been launched in Japan ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, with a new initiative allowing those willing to help to directly contact disaster-hit residents via social media.
The deadly earthquake occurred in western Japan on Jan. 17, 1995 -- which was considered "the first year of volunteering" in Japan as prosocial behavior caught so much attention in this country. Since then, methods to manage volunteers, crucial for disaster recovery, have evolved over the years.
On Jan. 14, Fukko Design, a general incorporated association supporting disaster recovery efforts based in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, launched the free volunteer matching service "Skett," in which people willing to offer aid and victims directly communicate via social networking services (SNS). The project is attracting attention as an alternative system to compensate for what people can't do when dispatched through disaster relief volunteer centers.
When using Skett, residents in disaster-hit areas describe what they need, such as volunteers to repair leaks or help them harvest crops, and volunteers in return list what they can actually do. Such information is then spread online via Twitter or Facebook and when demand and supply match, both sides directly communicate online so volunteer activities can actually take place.
Fukko Design director and major advertising firm employee Mitsuyoshi Kimura, 33, from the suburban Tokyo city of Musashino, and others came up with the idea to launch the online service focused on volunteers in disaster relief.
After Typhoon Faxai made landfall in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, in September 2019, Kimura and his team called on victims and asked what kind of help and supplies they needed, and posted the necessities on an online bulletin board connected to Twitter. He then asked for volunteers, to which some 300 people came forward.
Volunteers dispatched through disaster relief centers are often limited to activities such as cleaning household goods from the aspect of fairness. With Skett, however, volunteers can choose what kind of assistance they would like to offer, thus enabling them to engage in various activities based on their experience or on their fields of expertise, like restoring farmland or harvesting crops.
Though the service faces some challenges, including volunteers taking out insurance policies, Kimura said, "We would like to create a system in which the necessary assistance is provided to victims based on individual circumstances. People providing support, on the other hand, can help out in activities they are interested in, and increase others' interest in volunteer work."
A list of help wanted in disaster-hit areas can be seen on the official website of Skett, only on smartphones, at https://fukko-skett.jp/ (in Japanese).
(Japanese original by Motohiro Inoue, Hanshin Bureau)