On March 11, 2011, one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history occurred. A tsunami caused by a series of earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean, 230 miles northeast of Tokyo, hit Japan. The destructive series of waves caused an estimated 25 trillion yen ($300 billion) in damage, and the death toll topped 15,000.

Coca-Cola understood that reconstruction after the disaster would require more than mending the physical destruction. When homes, loved ones and communities are destroyed, the future becomes an uncertain horizon. That’s why the company committed to invest in the future of the survivors, with a specific focus on the youth generation impacted by the tsunami.

Together with The TOMODACHI Initiative, The Coca-Cola Japan Reconstruction Fund sponsored the TOMODACHI Coca-Cola Educational Homestay Program for teens from Japan’s Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

The public-private partnership is led by the U.S. government and the U.S.-Japan Council. Its vision is to strengthen the future of U.S.-Japan relations and co-leadership by fostering a generation of young American and Japanese leaders through educational and cultural exchange.

For the second consecutive year, the TOMODACHI Coca-Cola Educational Homestay Program sponsored a group of young Japanese students from the affected areas, hosting them in the United States for more than three weeks. The 2013 program included 119 students between the ages of 16 and 18.

The students kicked off the program in Washington D.C., where they spent two days touring the nation’s capital and attending a meeting on Capitol Hill and a reception at the Japan Embassy. The students also participated in an especially impactful meeting with a U.S. government representative, where three students shared their experiences during and after the earthquake and tsunami.

students at World of Coke

Visiting the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

The group then traveled to Atlanta, Ga., where they visited CNN Studios and the World of Coca-Cola. Additionally, the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta, with support of the Japan Chamber of Commerce, hosted a lunch for the students that featured remarks from Consul General Kazuo Sunaga, who thanked Coca-Cola for its contribution to the reconstruction and to Japan’s youth.

The students then began their three-week homestay program, engaging in language classes and cultural experiences. The brave and motivated participants saw the experience as more than just an international exchange program. They saw it as an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge that will help them heal from their traumatic experiences and build a better, safer and more sustainable future for Japan.

Their goals are inspiring. Yuri Tabata wants to learn English, saying, “I was working at the evacuation center where I saw numerous aid supply packets from foreign countries I wanted to be able to read. I want to become a storyteller. I want to be able to tell the victims’ and survivors’ stories in English, so I can pass on what I learned from the earthquake to as many people as possible and communicate how grateful I am for their help.”

Others, like Kaoru Kanno, want to work internationally on the development of safe, sustainable alternatives to nuclear energy.

Many participants are passionate about service. “I feel there is more I can do to help,” said Shunji Hosada, who applied for the program because he wanted to experience the spirit of “true volunteerism” in the U.S. He plans to study refugee aid and international development, and hopes to one day support natural disaster reconstruction projects around the world.

Kaoru, Yuri and Shunji are just three examples of the outstanding caliber of participants in this program. By investing in these incredible young people, Coca-Cola is investing in their hope for a better future.

“I want to be a ‘change-maker’,” Yuri said, “and The Coca-Cola Company is allowing me to take the first step.”