Volunteer work is a wonderful way to give back to the community. It is also a great opportunity to enrich one's CV while doing something meaningful that can have an impact on other people's lives.
But how can one do volunteer work with little or no knowledge of Japanese? What can an expat offer that Japanese volunteers wouldn't be able to do better? This is what I was thinking last Christmas, when I came across an article in the Japan Times about a volunteer organization that was visiting Children's Homes and teaching English.
For a country so wealthy, Japan has an unexpectedly high number of children living in institutions. Some of them have no living relatives able to look after them but the vast majority have ended up in orphanages because of their parents' negligent or abusive behaviour, or in some cases due to financial difficulties that leave the family unable to look after them. With adoption and foster care being less popular here than in the West, many of them will live there until they are out of high-school, at which point they will have to leave the institution and start fending for themselves. At first they will have the support of the institution, until they are deemed to be independent enough to be on their own.
A recent Human Rights Watch report highlights the difficulties these children are faced with both while they are in the system and after they leave it. A number of volunteer organizations are currently working both with children currently residing in group homes and with others who have already left. Some are offering cramming lessons for high-school students, a luxury many wouldn't have been able to afford.
And this is where the English-speaking community comes in.
A few years ago Liza Minglana Sato, a long term resident from the Philippines and English teacher, decided it was time to start giving back to the community that had been so good to her. So in her free time she started visiting children's homes and offering lessons to children who's circumstances may have otherwise not allowed for that sort of experience.
Gradually, more teachers joined her efforts and eventually JOYFUL (Japan Outreach Youth Foundation for Underprivileged Learners) was founded. The organization, which also aims to help underprivileged communities in the Philippines, has already organized several fundraising events, parties at several Children's Homes, workshops and will soon be taking some of the children camping.
It has also realized several projects in the Philippines and is working on raising funds to build a library for a remote village there.
During a recent members' meeting I had the chance to meet some of the teachers who were kind enough to share their experiences. It is a rare thing for a teacher to be able to say they've actually made a difference in a child's life but some of the volunteers have indeed accomplished that.
We are now looking for more people who would like to join our efforts. Lack of teaching experience is not a problem; we can train you or you can help with administrative issues. Japanese speakers are also welcome as they could support and coordinate our volunteers' efforts. And if you don't have time to volunteer, donations are also appreciated as they allow us to fund a number of activities and realize projects like "Share and save for the Library".
So if you or someone you know would like to join us, all you have to do is contact us with any questions you might have. We are looking forward to hearing from you!