Why has Rissho Kosei-kai continued to join the Campaign for Sharing Blankets with People in Africa to cooperate in sending large numbers of blankets to people in the hot countries of the African continent for many years?
In many African countries natural disasters such as prolonged droughts and severe flooding occur with great frequency. In 2000, the people of Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea suffered the effects of both drought and civil war. Sudanese refugees who fled to Uganda to escape the fighting in their own country are suffering similar plights. People in Djibouti are also the victims of prolonged drought and many Somali refugees have sought to escape the civil war in their country. Malawi and Mozambique are reported to have suffered serious flood damage.
In such countries, blankets are essential to help the people survive the harsh natural conditions. Since many countries on the continent experience both highland and desert climates, there is a great difference between the high daytime temperatures and the low temperatures at night and in the early morning. The victims of natural disasters and the refugees created by internal conflicts are often malnourished or even starving and lacking in basic necessities. Blankets used as temporary shelter shield them from the fierce daytime sun and serve as overcoats to help maintain body warmth during the extreme nighttime cold.
Rissho Kosei-kai's participation in the campaign is based on the same spirit as the Donate a Meal Campaign - sharing in suffering, offering prayers, and making donations.
The roots of the Campaign for Sharing Blankets with People in Africa go back to December 14, 1984. At that time, the Japanese media promoted an appeal to the people of Japan to assist victims of a lengthy drought in Ethiopia who were threatened with famine.
A group from an association formed by ordinary citizens and government officials flew to eight African countries, including Ethiopia and Mozambique, for eight days from November 10, 1984 to study the extent of the drought damage.
The association then issued a report, which followed an appeal to Japan from the director of UNICEF asking for a contribution of one million blankets for the people of Ethiopia. A nationwide campaign to do this was organized the same year under what was then called the Association for Sending Blankets to Africa.
Rissho Kosei-kai joined the association from its founding, together with Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNICEF, and some other nongovernmental organizations. Rissho Kosei-kai appealed to members throughout Japan to become actively involved in helping to reach the target of 100,000 blankets. Youth members gathered on December 15 and volunteered to help prepare the donated blankets for shipment. By the end of the month Rissho Kosei-kai had attained its goal. All of the blankets collected by members were sent to Ethiopia as part of the shipment of some 1.71 million of blankets donated throughout Japan, successfully completing the campaign's first year.
In 1986, what was then known as the Japan Association of Agencies for Supporting Africa was formed and continued the campaign. Year by year, the citizens of Japan become more responsive, thanks in part to wide media coverage of the campaign. Telephone inquiries from communities came to the headquarters and local churches of Rissho Kosei-kai, and more and more people began to donate blankets. Each year from May 1 until the end of June, especially on Rissho Kosei-kai's annual Youth Day, members at all churches move out into their local communities calling on people to cooperate in donating blankets for Africa.
The spirit of the association has been successfully passed on to the Campaign for Sharing Blankets with People in Africa, which includes as member organizations the African Society of Japan, Japan International Volunteer Center, Japan Team of Young Human Power, and the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia, along with Rissho Kosei-kai.
From its beginnings in 1984 through 2000, more than 2.7 million blankets were collected and donated to people in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Uganda, Djibouti, Mali, Tanzania, Ghana, Liberia, South Africa, Rwanda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan, Zambia, and elsewhere in Africa with the cooperation of local nongovernmental organizations in each country.