It’s that time of year when a lot of us make resolutions — many of which last only a few days. 2010 offers you the opportunity to do something new and get more involved in the community.
Some might say you can’t do much here in Japan, because “No one volunteers” and “It’s not part of the culture.”
Not true. There is no shortage of needs. Opportunities await you!
Your level of participation depends on your interests, skills and level of commitment. Here are three ways you can get started:
1. Learn what’s out there
Research organizations or just look for events that seem interesting to you. There are several Web sites where events are listed, but few that focus specifically on nonprofit NGO events, and fewer still with information in English.
On both a blog and via a Yahoo group, the Tokyo Community News promotes community volunteering, jobs and events. You can also find and share information about fundraising events on the meet-up page for Charity FUNdraising Tokyo!, started by Anna McMenamin of The FooTNiK bar in Ebisu. Both are looking for more contributors to help widen the net of outreach for organizations.
In terms of information on groups and what they are looking for, useful online resources in English are scarce. The Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation has discontinued the English version of its Japanese directory, and the NGO Cafe has a page of links that are mostly to sites in Japanese. The FEW Community Service Directory is one of the only comprehensive sources of English listings with information on groups and volunteer needs in the Kanto area. The 2010 edition will be posted online in late February and FEW’s community service information pages will also be updated by then.
You can also find out more about how to get involved by joining the annual Voluntary Forum, to be held Feb. 5 to 7 at Tokyo Volunteer Action Center in the Iidabashi Central Plaza Building. On Saturday and Sunday, they will have consultations specifically for non-Japanese speakers, so if you cannot read Japanese to register, just show up between 1 and 4 p.m. and go straight to the non-Japanese volunteer consultation desk (event details at www.tvac.or.jp/special/vf2010/abc.html).
Universities and community groups run a wide range of seminars, training sessions and workshops to help you increase your skills and knowledge. Temple University Japan’s NGO Management certificate program is conducted in English, as is Tsuda University Open School’s International Training program. Nonprofit support organizations such as the Japan NPO Center, the Center for Public Resources, JANIC and the Tokyo Volunteer Action Center also run training programs in Japanese for people already working in the sector and those wanting to join in. (Disclosure: This author runs workshops and training programs for some of the institutions listed.)
2. Hands-on involvement
No doubt many of you want to just dig in and do something. People volunteer for a myriad of reasons — to work with children, to use skills, to make friends, to have an impact on a problem, etc. — so your first step is to decide personal priorities, possibilities and needs. What are your relevant interests, skills and experience? Clarify your availability and commitment possibilities, and be honest about your language and communication skills.
Japanese fluency is required by most groups for event, client and office support, but many organizations working internationally, such as Human Rights Watch Japan and JEN (formerly Japan Emergency NGOs), also need people with English-language skills, particularly for communications, fundraising, outreach and PR. Some, such as Amnesty International Japan and Oxfam Japan, have specific groups for volunteers who may not be fluent in Japanese but want to contribute to the organizations’ missions. Amnesty International Tokyo English Network ( www.aitenjp.org/ ), for example, is an active local chapter of Amnesty International Japan. The Oxfam Japan International Volunteers Group organizes its own monthly events while also supporting Oxfam Japan campaigns.
Skills in other languages are also in demand. Both Multicultural Center Tokyo and Polaris Project are always in need of people with Chinese or Korean skills to help with outreach, event support or running workshops in other languages.
Organizations such as the Tokyo Multicultural Center and JEN have monthly introductory meetings for potential supporters. These introduce the organization, their needs and how to get involved. JEN’s upcoming sessions have been set for Feb. 13, Mar. 12 and Apr. 17, and you can sign up by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information and when you want to join.
Many of us are familiar with the need for funding, event and administrative help, but leaders from many groups have told me they specifically need volunteers with IT and outreach skills. Most may require bilingual fluency, but if you have a specialized skill you might be able to train staff or volunteers to make Web sites, take care of finances or improve their outreach strategy. Leaders at Human Rights Watch’s Tokyo office and Doctors of the World Japan, for example, specifically need professional pro bono help with Web site development, legal support, accounting and financial management.
For the young wanting to volunteer, age is no barrier. Kids can make a difference. Save the Children Japan has a youth group for which no specific skills are required, giving young people a learning opportunity while offering vital organizational support. Free The Children Japan, made up of youth all over the world working to free children from harsh labor, is always looking for young people interested in setting up chapters at their schools.
3. Engage your own networks
Through your company, network of friends, school or any group you are involved in, it is also possible to have an impact through your own efforts. It’s as simple as selecting a project and developing an event around what they do.
Home parties that double as minifundraisers are common in the U.S., where an issue and organization are introduced over dinner and drinks. Guests pay a “party fee” that is actually a donation. A Tokyo apartment may be too small, but you can hold your own event at a community center, for example.
Alternatively, JEN has a partnership with BookOff! called Book Magic. Just register online and set up a pickup time, and books, CDs and DVDs will be collected by BookOff!, with money raised from selling the items going to JEN schools in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan.
Foreign Executive Women (FEW) is organizing “Brownies and Books,” a media bazaar, on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the TELL Community Center in Minami Aoyama, Tokyo, in support of JEN. Everyone is invited to bring their used media, which will be picked up and sold by BookOff! (for info or to sign up, mail FEWcommunity@gmail.com; map at www.telljp.com/images/uploads/TELL.map.pdf ).
Many of us have joined fundraising runs or walks, but you can also make a difference by running in the Tokyo Marathon. If you are already registered to run, you can support Refugees International Japan (mail email@example.com) or the Tyler Foundation by having people sponsor your run.
The annual Oxfam Trailwalker offers a bigger challenge. Held from April 23 to 25, Trailwalker teams of four tackle a 100 km trek from Odawara, Kanagawa, to Lake Yamanaka by Mount Fuji over 48 hours, raising funds for Oxfam Japan projects aimed at eradicating poverty. Since the first Japan Trailwalker, volunteers have raised almost ¥200 million. Executive Director Akiko Mera expects this to be their biggest year yet, but they need more than 700 volunteers to make the event happen. So even if you cannot do the hike, why not help out?
If all that seems too much, think smaller scale: Invite an NGO leader to give a guest presentation to your association members. Community groups are always looking for new outreach opportunities, and by promoting organizations and causes to your network, you are helping them enlist new supporters, as well as enhancing the understanding of issues among those in your group.
Corporate outreach workers at Save the Children Japan ask companies to have their mailings distributed internally to staff: again, a win-win situation.
Some community groups are trying to involve companies by introducing ways they can collaborate. For example, the Tyler Foundation organizes events at hospitals for pediatric cancer patients, and always welcomes volunteers able to lend a hand. They encourage small groups of company workers to volunteer or organize their own events for children with cancer.
JEN attracts groups through its weekend community development project in Niigata, where up to 15 people stay for two or three nights in a small town and help elderly farmers still suffering in the wake of the Niigata Earthquake. Winter trips focus on snow removal, with planting and harvesting done in the fall. Specific schedules vary but include other activities such as joining local festivals or picnics and meeting people in the community.
On an individual or group basis you can also help though donations of PCs and Macs (no antiques, please!). Currently, both Human Rights Watch Japan (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Doctors of the World Japan (Medecins du Monde) (email@example.com) are in need of computers, so mail them with your machine’s specifications to confirm if it matches their needs.
Whatever your interest — whatever your capacity — there is a way to get involved.
Once you make the commitment, do it. Whether as an individual or group, for one event only or one day a week, the key is to follow through. Community service is not paid, but for those in need, your work is valuable. For the people you are trying to help, not showing up due to a hangover will have an impact.
For most of us, the most difficult part is making that resolution, saying, “Yes, I will do something.”
There is no shortage of opportunities! Now, make that move to get involved.
Sarajean Rossitto is a Tokyo-based independent consultant working on nonprofit NGO capacity development (sarajeanr.wordpress.com). Complete information about the events, volunteer opportunities and groups listed above is posted on sarajeans-notes.blogspot.com/. Send comments on this issue and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org