The room is chockablock — or seems to be. Also, a baby is crying. Yet there is a center of gravity in Cesar Santoyo, a mission coordinator from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. While small meetings take place all around, he calmly sets up a promo DVD with one hand, and soothes the baby with the other.
Santoyo is mission director of the Center for Japanese-Filipino Families (CJFF), in Room 32 of the Japan Christian Center in Tokyo’s Nishi-Waseda area of Shinjuku. The Japan Christian Center in itself is a surprise, one of a cluster of Christian-associated buildings gathered around a courtyard just off a main street.
“This office — CJFF — has been here since 2000,” Santoyo explains. “It was set up by the United Church of Christ in Japan for the welfare of Filipino women married to Japanese after I identified that these families have a particular problem. The turn of millennium seemed a good time to start trying to help.”
Helping today is CHOBET Program Coordinator Lori Ligon (it’s her baby that Santoyo is quietening), Michael (Konin) Kato, who describes himself as a learning consultant, and long-term British resident of Ibaraki Prefecture, Douglas Young, president of Imagine Plus and the creator of YES (Young English System).
CHOBET, Santoyo explains, stands for Community and Home-Based English Teachers. Together they are trying to help Filipino women acquire the necessary skills for teaching English, so enabling them to become economically self-reliant and stand tall in Japanese society.
Santoyo’s background for such work is unexpected. With a degree in mechanical engineering, he worked as a creative arts specialist in the Product Development and Design Center of the Philippines (PDDCO) under the Department of Trade and Industry in Manila helping medium-scale companies find markets and promote their goods.
There’s still not that much career choice in his home country, he explains: “Even with a decent education, graduates have limited options. In general, if they don’t want to end up as teachers or salesmen, they have to go abroad.”
Which is why he jumped ship. Santoyo became a missionary, moving to Hong Kong in September 1988. Seven years later he was assigned to do research work in Japan — assess the situation of Filipino women here — and as a result opened CJFF.
In Hong Kong, Filipino women mainly act as maids and housekeepers. They work, send money home to their families and eventually return home. In Japan, they come primarily to service the so-called mizu shobai entertainment industry.
Santoyo says that mostly these girls are very young and from rural areas, so they have little education: “Often they marry clients for protection and/or to escape the work. Once they have children, many find themselves in another form of enslavement.”
In Hong Kong, Santoyo dealt mainly with individual immigration and labor problems. Here he was faced with families — often very large and extended families.
“It was so different, such a challenge.”
He had always planned to go home once the office was up and running and most certainly never envisaged creating a plan to develop employment for those who sought help. But very quickly he realized that he was dealing with super women — women who “held up half of the sky.”
Many had fled abusive relationships or had been abandoned. This meant returning to jobs as hostesses and entertainers in order to support not only their own children, but families in the Philippines.
Santoyo was impressed by their strength and dedication to assuming full responsibility for all those in weaker positions than themselves. They became in his eyes, “symbols of sacrifice,” prepared to suffer any indignity rather than have relatives go hungry.
There is a saying, he adds: “Teach a man to fish and he will fish for a day. Teach a woman to fish and she will fish 365 days a year for her family while ensuring the lake never goes empty.”
Most Filipino mothers witness their double-culture children deny their heritage at one time or another; they cannot bear the derogatory term Japayuki. But an increasing number are standing up to say, “Yes, I’m Filipino!”
The tendency in Japan, (encouraged by government), is for the kids to assimilate into Japanese culture: Ignore the problem, and eventually it will go away. Santoyo, however, saw an alternative.
“I thought that if the women could be taught to teach English, both in their own communities and in the wider community of Japanese society, then they would have employment alternatives and be able to find a new form of self-respect.
Initially, he introduced a training course in preparation for TOEFL/TOEIC examination, and the CHOBET Associated Certificate Course.
CHOBET was a jump-start course for Filipinos wishing to become community and home-based English teachers, practicing English teachers wanting more home and community-based skills, mothers wanting to teach their own children, and those women wanting to upgrade their image and quality of life in Japan.
“We based CHOBET’s course work on the philosophy of three educators: Jean Piaget, Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori. We also emphasized identifying those values from Japanese-Filipino differences that would enhance the personal growth and skills development of Filipino English teachers.”
Training has been in progress since May 2006, with such success that CHOBET qualifications are now accepted nationwide. Still, Santoyo was not satisfied. Late last year he became interested in new emerging teaching techniques after teachers began asking for more help in creating lesson plans, together with a steady stream of lesson materials. However, lack of time and cash were big problems.
“This is when I asked Lori to go to the last JALT conference, and see what was available that we might be able to use.”
So off went Ligon, and whom should she meet up with but Doug Young, busy promoting his teaching system YES.
The result: Young is supplying CHOBET with more than 2,000 teaching cards for free — a steady stream of material for sure.
All the teacher has to do is ensure that students buy the cards’ associated set of students’ materials designed to cover one year, for ages 0-grade 6. The books cost just under ¥10,000, a price most of the students’ mothers can handle.
The first re-training course that Lori, Doug and Michael will facilitate takes place on Feb. 23 and 24. Right now they’re expecting 40 teachers, so have booked the Lifelong Center in Taito Ward. This is because CHOBET has grown out of the space provided by the Philippines representative office of Landbank in Tokyo, says Santoyo proudly.
He’s excited at the prospects for CHOBET now that Young has joined forces. “When I look back, I see how far we’ve come,” the minister observes, finally relinquishing the babe in arms. “Since we began training, hundreds of women have been in touch.”
He can still remember his surprise and shock at learning how little power Filipino women have in this country. No financial security. No chance to go home and too late for most. And no development, because with college education here so expensive, there’s no way for their children to escape the trap.
Now they are being offered increasingly positive alternatives. And they are saying “Yes, please,” to YES, and “thank you.”