A destructive 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Japan 231 miles north of Tokyo on March 11, 2011. As a result, a tsunami took more than 15,000 lives, creating one of the most detrimental natural disasters in history. The devastation left 1.5 million tons of debris in the Pacific Ocean and 25 trillion yen ($300 billion) in damages.

A generation of young survivors was left behind with destroyed homes and communities. Coca-Cola stepped in to help. With support from the company, Coca-Cola Japan employees and 12 Japanese bottling partners established The Coca-Cola Japan Reconstruction Fund to begin rebuilding lives and communities in Japan. The fund began a partnership with the TOMODACHI Initiative, a public-private partnership led by the U.S. government and the U.S.-Japan Council, to support the country’s recovery and invest in the futures of Japanese and American youth through cultural and economic ties.

Three years later, Coca-Cola is still supporting activities in Japan’s restoration. Together, the Fund and the TOMODACHI Initiative sponsor the TOMODACHI Coca-Cola Educational Homestay Program. Through this program every summer, youth from the tsunami’s hardest-hit areas visit the U.S. to take language classes, experience the culture and share their stories. This year, on their first stop in Atlanta, the students will visit the city’s landmarks, participate in volunteer activities and tour local universities.

Coca-Cola hosted 60 of these students and their families at a reception at corporate headquarters to welcome them to Atlanta and hear about their personal experiences. Two students, Oikawa Natsuko and Sasaki Yoshiki, shared their stories on how a tragic experience turned into a positive testimony and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

Honorable Kazuo Sunaga, Consul General of Japan

“I’m so happy to have an opportunity like this in the United States. I can learn here what I can’t learn in Japan, I can feel here what I can’t feel in Japan, and I can work with the world,” Natsuko said.

Michael Goltzman, vice president of International Government Relations, welcomed the students with opening remarks and emphasized the importance of community building and partnership.

“The connection between the United States and Japan represents a truly important bilateral relationship with significant implications for business and trade, diplomacy, art and culture, and much more,” he said. “As young leaders, these students help build on the very positive and important legacy of friendship, cooperation and partnership between two great nations and their peoples.”

The Consul General of Japan, the Honorable Kazuo Sunaga, highlighted his gratitude toward the strides Coca-Cola and TOMODACHI have made in impacting the lives of these students and remaining committed to their success.

“The Coca-Cola Company, our friend, always does the utmost to support and encourage the youth," Sunaga said. "I would like to thank them for their continuous generosity. We would do the same if there is ever a need.”