Ando Isamu S.J. (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 146 / November 15th, 2008
Nowadays it seems natural for a religious congregation to open a new house for their own elderly people or to close kindergartens, a hospital or even schools. But, why the opening of an International Academy – in fact a small place – in Adachi-ku? (Tokyo). What is the motive behind to take a risk?
At the national level Japan is doing less than enough to provide Japanese education to hundreds of thousands of foreigners living in Japan. Certainly foreign workers and their children here are at a loss. Although not everywhere in Japan this reality would be true, the needs for education in the Japanese language are an actual pressing need in several regions of Japan. Adachi ward of Tokyo is one of those regions.
For the past few years several sporadic efforts have been done by small groups of volunteers to help foreigners, mainly busy workers residents of Adachi ward, with learning Japanese. For instance, this is the case of “Musubi no Kai,” a small group of volunteers that gave birth to the Adachi International Academy (AIA).
We often encounter in our big cities foreign workers and see them by the hundreds filling churches. Maybe we converse with them in their own languages or also in Japanese, but most of them cannot read and write Japanese characters. They could not afford to attend a language school and as a result are illiterate in the Japanese language. “Illiteracy” makes people dependent and curtails their freedom and even their humanity. Usually this heavily affects family and job problems, health and legal issues and provokes an increase in fear, stress and dissatisfaction. People tend to distrust themselves and lose self-confidence. Many have children of school age and the lack of literacy in their parents adds stress and powerlessness to the children. Human growth suffers and in the case of adults might become still. AIA tries to solve this.
What is New in AIA?
It is not the idea of providing possibilities for Japanese literacy what could be said new in starting a full time “Terakoya,” like AIA. The idea has been there for a long time also within the Church and the religious.
There is a new concept, a motif impelling to act creatively, to work together “as partners” in order to create a pilot educational project or enterprise that considers the beneficiaries at the center of its activities. These beneficiaries will be children of foreign workers parents as well as the adult workers themselves, mothers and children together. If you visit AIA you might find a Filipina mother learning Japanese characters and her little baby next to her sleeping in a baby sitter while a volunteer teaches the mother Japanese, or maybe a father from Ghana learning how to read and write Japanese with three more adults of other nationalities late on Sunday morning. His three children will come in the afternoon for Japanese lessons, Mathematics or English, while the Japanese wife helps the volunteers. There are no lessons done with white or blackboards in classrooms. The stress is on a person-to-person approach, an education oriented to develop personalities, to make learning interesting and to build a familiar atmosphere of trust in both, adults and children. Quoting from the thinking of Brazilian psychologist educator, Paulo Freire, students become teachers and teachers learn also from their students.
It is very important to give “confidence” and “empower” people, especially when adults are often discriminated in their jobs and social life, when they are nothing but guests also in churches and their children are bullied in schools. This is a natural site to listen to their personal problems. Children attending AIA talk freely and loudly in Japanese, but these same children sit down passively for hours in the classrooms obliged to attend compulsory education, without understanding their teachers.
How to Make a Valid Concept Work
Of course, AIA has a Christian orientation and ideal. It tries to develop the whole human being, to take a holistic educational approach. But when it comes to implement those ideals, the methods used are the same ones of the market: to answer the specific needs of people, especially those in need, dedicated persons and cooperators, money and a place easy to reach. Creativity and flexibility together with a definite attitude of partnership are very important. There is a need to take risks with a learning attitude of ‘trial and error,’ always trusting people and with faith in the “invisible Hand” of God.
The concrete process started a year ago. In order to establish a solid system there was a need of involving religious Catholic organizations trusting their interest in doing something more for the educational needs of foreign resident workers and their children. Their experience in the field of education was important. And to minimize the burdens on personnel and finance the concept of “togetherness” looked most attractive. By February of this year 4 religious congregations including Jesuits decided to work together in a pilot educational project in Adachi-ku. Almost at the same time a substantial fund from outside Japan was offered to start the program and little by little the logistics to implement it started to roll down. An important side-effect of this pilot educational program is the involvement of young and senior volunteers, offering people a place for human fulfillment and the possibilities to do something meaningful to others. It is good for volunteers to go abroad to Asian countries but we have the poor and the needy also at home. AIA leans on volunteers and believes that Christian schools will realize that there is a fit place here for young dedicated volunteers. They will help to make the children happy and through that they can find for themselves a full life with more joy.
It took us over a month of continuous searching to find a place, an old house, in Adachi-ku and rent it. The core staff under a lay person, Mr. Nakamura Tomotaro, recently retired from Sophia University, started operations in June and on 6 July 2008 we celebrated the official opening of AIA with 50 guests. About 30 persons used the facilities of AIA in July, but the numbers jumped to 126 in August, 197 in September and 293 in October. The place is daily open till 8:30 PM, except on Mondays. You are most welcomed. Please, come and see.
ADACHI INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY
(new address) 3-4-12 Umejima, Adachi-ku, Tokyo 121-0816
〒 121-0816 東京都足立区梅島３丁目４－１２
Tel 03-3880-8487 Fax 03-3880-8489