Bringing Smiles to Mothers and Babies in Japan

Baby Smile provides mental health and child-rearing support services for earthquake and tsunami survivors

Baby Smile Ishinomaki provides mental health and child-rearing support services for mothers with young children in Ishinomaki, Japan. AmeriCares Japan has helped the nonprofit evolve into a model organization by providing funding and managerial support.

Since 2012, AmeriCares partner Baby Smile has provided much-needed support for over 1,500 mothers and babies living in Ishinomaki, a region heavily affected by the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. Following the disaster, mothers needed a place where they could learn more about child rearing and connect with a social-support network including other local mothers who have babies of the same age. The organization hosts mother-child gatherings, child health and nutrition workshops, and physical exercise such as “Mommy and Me” yoga for mothers who are eager to participate in the informative and social gatherings.

Two years ago, Baby Smile was just an idea held by residents living in temporary housing isolated from their pre-disaster networks. At the time, the city-managed, child-rearing support centers had not fully restored their operations, and the number of OBGYNs in the area had not recovered, a problem that still persists today. The residents decided to get together to form a support group for mothers and small children in Ishinomaki. When they reached out to AmeriCares Japan for assistance, the staff stepped up to provide them with the funding needed to get the program off the ground. As Baby Smile grew, becoming a registered nonprofit organization, the partnership also developed. The AmeriCares Japan Senior Program Manager worked closely with the Baby Smile staff to apply for additional funding, implement new programs and report on results. 

A group of mothers discuss child-care topics such as health and nutrition.
A group of mothers discuss child-care topics such as health and nutrition.

The program’s development has been instrumental for mothers who look to share information and talk about various life challenges after the disaster – through the social events they have been able to quickly form friendships and move past the isolation they once felt before joining Baby Smile.

Last month, Baby Smile Ishinomaki was commended by the Japanese Cabinet Office for their invaluable child-rearing support activities. A Baby Smile representative immediately contacted the AmeriCares Japan staff about this special and proud moment. She thanked the team, saying it was because of AmeriCares ongoing support that they received such praise. Baby Smile is now considered a model for other nonprofit organizations throughout the region.

AmeriCares continues to support the earthquake and tsunami recovery in Japan by funding health services for survivors, including mental health programs and help for people with disabilities.  Read more about our work in Japan here.

An article about Baby Smile featured in the largest regional newspaper Kahoku Shinpo.

Above: The largest regional newspaper, Kahoku Shinpo,
featured Baby Smile following the Cabinet Office’s announcement.
The writer described Baby Smile as a platform for mothers to support each other
and share information in the disaster-affected town.