Schoolgirls’ soccer project exemplifies NPO’s work

12-year-old students videotape practice to protest termination of decades-old sporting event

by Asako Murakami

KOBE — Three 12-year-old girls in Nagata Ward here are videotaping their classmates’ soccer practice on the playground of their elementary school.

After the training session is over, the girls conduct interviews with the Shinyo Elementary School players and the teacher, who coaches them for an upcoming game.

The video project is a two-pronged affair, constituting both a protest over the impending termination of a series of sports events that have run since 1978, and part of a program initiated by a local nonprofit organization to help children express themselves and nurture interest in local matters.

The sports events in question involve fifth- and sixth-grade students and are aimed at promoting sports awareness among elementary school children in Kobe.

The activities, which are organized by a group of local schoolteachers and are held on Saturday afternoons, will be abolished in April, when elementary schools adopt the five-day week system for the new academic year.

“I don’t want the sports events to be abolished,” said Mana Sekiya, one of the elementary school filmmakers.

“We all enjoy it, and I made lots of friends through the events.”

Last summer, an NPO called Tour de Communication started helping children in Shinyo produce video films focusing on local people and events.

The first film produced via the project centered on two issues — a newly opened subway line that runs through the area, and sauce for “okonomiyaki” savory pancakes made by a local sauce maker.

The video film was shown to the public and also on the group’s Web site, at tcc117.com/tdc/kids/shinyo.

“Through making films, we want children to learn more about issues of the communities where they live,” said Yoko Ogawa, a member of the NPO.

“In addition, we hope children will learn there is an alternative media by which they can express their own opinions.”

Children in Shinyo already have some experience in using the local media. A community FM radio station, created in the wake of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, broadcast a program from a shopping mall in Kobe’s Nagata Ward for two years from mid-1998.

One of the programs, aired every Saturday, featured news reports from Shinyo Elementary School students.

With some of the radio station operators having become members of Tour de Communication, established in 1999, the NPO decided to work with local children after the program was terminated.

“The studio at the shopping mall became a forum for local people,” Ogawa said.

“We wanted such community bonds to be maintained (even after the end of the program) when less and less people care about others.”

The NPO works in cooperation with a “kodomo-kai” children’s group in Shinyo, which has about 200 members.

The children who participated in the video activity also belong to the organization.

The group’s chairman, Toyohisa Yamamoto, says he appreciates the NPO’s work.

“Through this activity, we hope children, who are normally so busy with studying, will become more interested in local matters,” he said.

The themes that any given film will address are chosen by the children involved. The NPO staff members support the children in various ways — but respect their initiatives.

“I enjoy interviewing people and editing it with a computer,” said 12-year-old Fujiko Kishimoto.

“It is interesting to talk to many people.”