What better way is there than to make the most of your stay in Japan by volunteering and giving back to the community? If you are generally free during the weekends, why not use one weekend or so a month to volunteer for English Camps run by Ganbaro Miyagi? Camps are normally 1Night 2Days during the weekends for the year up till November (see normal camps and winter camps).
Photo : Laura Tomàs Avellana on FlickrThere are various locations available, so if you live near Ueno Station, Omiya Station, Chiba Station or Sendai Station, give this English Camp a try one weekend. If you already work full-time during the week, just volunteering for one or two weekends per month will suffice in my opinion. I overdid it once and volunteered every weekend for a month or so despite having a full-time job on weekdays. That was really a killer. My advice is to volunteer as much as you are able to without compromising on your health and sanity. On the other hand, it is almost the norm for many volunteers to wake up at 4 or 5am (or even earlier) in order to get to the meeting point by 7am, so don’t let the journey to the meeting point deter you from volunteering!
So what are Ganbaro Miyagi Camps and what would you do there? The main aim is to rehabilitate elementary school children back to an environment where fun learning can take place, which in this case is learning and playing using English with International and Japanese Volunteers. Some of these children may have gone through extremely hard times during natural disasters and still experience some difficulty in their life now, such as not being able to go back to their original homes or not wanting to go to school. Regardless of their background, kids will want our attention and friendship, so shower them with lots of TLC and praises.
The activities are relatively straightforward and all you need to do is to take the initiative to help the kids, encourage them to use more English and have fun. The two other things you can also do are to use your common sense and to be a role model for them by being on your best behaviour—for example, by taking the initiative to volunteer at meal times to help dish out food, hand out plates, wipe the table or rinse the dishes (it’d help to cut down the time needed for queuing and you’ll have more time to eat as well as teaching them some manners at the same time); by remembering to efficiently use any spare time you might have by asking if anyone needed to refill their water bottles, go to the toilet, get a sweater or cap, brush their teeth, pack their bag, make their bed, prepare their bath things and so on before the next activity starts; and by interacting well with the other participants and other volunteers—all of which should be a relatively easy thing to achieve. Other than that, just relax and have fun!
Cooking the kids’ dinnerSome may wonder why is it necessary to use one’s common sense or to actively remember to be a role model for a volunteering stint. Well, you are working with children. Having had studied psychology and worked with children for around 7 years in 3 countries, I find that children tend to reflect the behaviour of the adults around them. So it is not so much of being ‘overly enthusiastic’ about doing these things, but rather, being a role model for etiquette and manners. The greatest rewards are when children mimic our positive actions and take their own initiative to wipe the table, stack the plates, rinse the dishes, or hand out plates and cutlery. Some even remind each other to bring a cap or water bottle! Remember to exclaim ‘erai!’ or ‘great!’ when you see that! Ultimately, being able to see the joy on their faces during the camp will no doubt make you feel that volunteering is worthwhile.
Walking through the camp area in a beautiful Chichibu mountain. (picture by shrompy)
So if you have a passion for children, love the outdoors and the mountains, and would like to meet, befriend, work with and have fun with like-minded (probably) International and Japanese people, please check out Ganbaro Miyagi English Camp’s Facebook here for more pictures and updates.
For more information, see here.