The devastation of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, and ensuing tsunami, that hit northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011 shocked the world. Entire communities were washed away, and countless lives were lost. Halfway around the world, you couldn’t help but feel the fear and pain of the families affected by the disaster. That fact was especially true for Cultural Homestay International, a foreign exchange organization based in San Anselmo, CA, just north of San Francisco.
Founded in 1980 by the husband and wife team of Tom and Lilka Areton, Cultural Homestay International (CHI), got its start back then by inviting a few small groups of Japanese students to spend some time living with families in the United States. Though the organization’s reach has spread over the past 31 years to many different countries, CHI still maintains close ties with countless students, families, and partners in Japan.
So when the news of the natural disaster spread, the CHI family knew they had to do something. They immediately coordinated their staff to help every Japanese student under their watch find and get in touch with family members back home. Followed by Executive Director Tom Areton announcing a fundraising initiative, supported by a directive that CHI would match all donations received towards the rescue and relief efforts in Japan dollar-for-dollar.
The response was tremendous. Staff members, their families and friends, host families, and even program participants all gathered together to help the cause. In just a few short weeks, the CHI community pulled together to raise over $18,000. This amount was donated directly to the Japanese Red Cross, through the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco.
In addition to the money, CHI was thrilled with the outpouring of love and support displayed by families on this side of the Pacific Many contacted CHI to ask what else they could do, and to check in on Japanese students they had hosted as many as 20 years ago. It is this form of cross-cultural bonding that has always been central to CHI’s mission, and seeing those connections continue to matter during such an otherwise difficult time for the global community shows that CHI’s mission is alive and well.