For foreigners in Japan, finding meaningful opportunities to help the communities around them is one way to develop even deeper connections to those communities. The following are a few of the people and organizations that have taken a leading role in doing good work while making it easier for other foreigners to get involved and lend a hand.
Opportunities for Education: College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ)
“Enriching, Encouraging, and Educating” is the motto of the 65-year-old non-profit organization that provides opportunities for students of all walks of life under the College Women’s Association of Japan, or CWAJ.
Founded after WWII to help cover the prohibitively high transportation costs for Japanese students to study abroad in the US, the CWAJ has expanded to multiple scholarship offerings in four different categories. Along with the cultural programs, monthly luncheons at the Tokyo American Club, and special interest groups including hiking and book clubs, the members of the CWAJ put on their biggest event in October in the form of a print show exhibition. This annual event is CWAJ’s main source of scholarship funds, followed by donations by both families and companies.
This year’s scholars were announced at their May luncheon, and included two recipients of the newly established Fukushima scholarship for medical students who were adversely affected by the disaster; visually impaired scholarship recipients studying organic chemistry and educational sociology; and two non-Japanese students researching artificial skin and cerebral cortex function.
How to get involved: Visit their print show exhibition in October or become a member. www.cwaj.org
Restoration through Recreation: The Playground of Hope
One month after the events of 3/11, entrepreneur Michael Anop went north to Ishinomaki, where he stayed for one week. This led to a stint in Minamisoma and a longer project with the Save Minamisoma endeavor, delivering tons of water and vegetables to areas where they were most needed. But during all of this work, he began to realize that there were two other needs that were not being met: In the temporary housing that had been constructed in the areas of Tohoku, people who hadn’t lived in the same neighborhoods beforehand were being put together all of a sudden, and they were finding it difficult to build new ties. And none of these communities’ children had anywhere to play.
It turns out that one of Anop’s friends from Italy happened to have a connection to a US company that made playsets, which are particularly expensive in Japan. Anop realized that he could address these two needs at the same time, by finding a place where the children could play, which in turn would give parents and neighborhoods a chance to find common ground. And so the Playground of Hope organization was born.
Their first two playsets were put in place on March 11, 2012, and thanks to generous support from donors such as J.P. Morgan and Deutsche Bank, the organization has been able to place dozens of playsets around Tohoku, and they have moved on to outfit- ting orphanages in other parts of Japan as well. Anop estimates that there are still 200 to 250 locations in Tohoku alone that need places where children can engage in the much-needed, and often-forgotten activity of “free play.”
How to get involved: Donate, volunteer, or if you know of an area in Tohoku that is in need of a safe space for play, contact Playground of Hope. www.playgroundofhope.org
Raising Funds for Handicapped Children: Nick Masee
The only non-Japanese recipient of the prestigious Machikaido Philanthropist Award from the Japan Philanthropic Association, Nick Masee, Managing Director of Asian Tigers Mobility Japan has dedicated his free time to raising money for handicapped children.
For more than ten years, Masee, who is originally from Vancouver, Canada, has hosted an annual fundraising dinner at his apartment. At this point, about 100 people come to the parties, pay an entry fee, and bid on prizes provided by a variety of sponsors, including airline tickets, hotel rooms, and meals at restaurants. Nick has raised more than $250,000, and most of the funds go towards the YMCA Japan’s Challenged Children Programs.
Masee chairs the YMCA FCSC, or Foreign Community Support Committee, an organization that was founded in 1958 to help raise funds and awareness for the many community activities that YMCA Japan provides.
He is also an active supporter of the Run for the Cure Foundation, an organization that is seeking to eradicate breast cancer in Japan as a life-threatening disease through education, timely screening, and treatment. The organization has already donated six mammography machines to six clinics in areas where women are underserved and has funded more than 3,600 mammogram screenings.
Building a Future for Refugees
Refugees International Japan is an independent, nonprofit organization based in Tokyo. Established in 1979, RIJ is dedicated to raising funds for refugees displaced by war and conflict.
RIJ funds emergency situations, provides assistance to meet basic survival needs, supports pilot schemes, and distributes grants for training and education worldwide. These projects are mainly in developing or war-affected countries that have large populations of refugees and IDPs. The project funds are channeled through experienced organizations already working with refugees out in the field, ensuring that assistance goes quickly and directly to where it is most needed.
Over the past 35 years, RIJ has supported more than 840 projects in more than 50 countries in Africa, South America, Asia and Eastern Europe and increased the amount distributed from $18,500 in 1981 to more than $250,000 in 2013.
Jane Best, OBE, and president of RIJ, (previously with the UK Voluntary Service Overseas in Zambia), is actively involved in monitoring and visiting field projects, and along with her team of volunteers in Japan, organizes a variety of fundraisers. They range from sporting events, concerts, and children’s workshops to black-tie dinners.
At their most recent black-tie Gala fundraising event—“Wheels and Deals,” held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in June—guests were encouraged to try their hand at the casino tables, participate in F1 simulation races (with a ¥10,000 entry fee), and bid at silent and live auctions. The racing simulators tested participants at maneuvering on real tracks at real speeds, and proved to be immensely popular. The evening achieved an income of nearly $60,000 for RIJ and was a resounding success.
How to get involved: refugeesinternationaljapan.org
Main Image: koizumi/Flickr