Do what we can do to end preventable deaths and save lives
World Vision Japan
Minori Tanimura (left) and Mitsuko Sobata (right)
This month’s Close UP features World Vision Japan, a Japan office of World Vision, which is an international non-governmental organization formed in September 1950 in Oregon, the United States. Currently, World Vision runs various aid programs in approximately one hundred countries and regions. Japan was once a recipient of the World Vision’s support during the 1960’s, mostly through orphanages. In October 1987, as the nation made a postwar recovery and grew into one of the largest economies in the world, World Vision Japan was established to be part of its global support from the provider’s side. The organization’s three main projects include local development aid that mainly focuses on helping children through a Child Sponsorship program; an emergency humanitarian relief in case of disasters and wars; and advocacy work to make people and government be more aware of what they can do to solve issues including poverty and conflicts. For this interview, we talked to Mitsuko Sobata, Communications and Advocacy Marketing, and Minori Tanimura, Advocacy, and asked them what we can do to help people including children who are suffering from poverty and other difficulties.
Please tell us how the Child Sponsorship program works.

A World Vision Japan staff member
with children in Uganda
©World Vision Japan

Ms. Sobata: People sometime misunderstand that the Child Sponsorship is like a foster parent program, as we introduce one recipient kid as “child” to each sponsor. We don’t send the donation from the sponsor directly to the child, however. Instead, the donated fund will be used for activities that aim to improve the environment of the entire community so that children in the community, including that child, can grow up healthy. Currently, the Child Sponsorship is helping children in 23 countries. The role of World Vision Japan is no more than to send the donation to the recipient country. If we are helping a community in Uganda, for example, local staff members of World Vision Uganda will receive the donation and spend it for their activities. It is also people of the community who decide how to work on what issues, either making clean water available or preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, for example. Since the entire process of the regional development aid usually takes 10 to 15 years, the key to its success is that local people themselves become more skilled and experienced. Those people will be able to continue the activities on their own after the World Vision staff leaves the community.

How do the child and the sponsor communicate to each other?
Ms. Sobata: To each child sponsor, we send an annual report with the child’s picture and let them know how the child has grown along with his/her health condition and performance at school. The sponsors will also receive an annual program report about the support activities that have taken place in the child’s community. The communication between the child and the sponsor is mainly done by exchanging letters. I often hear from the sponsors that it is so encouraging to see the child, who was not able to write at the beginning, gradually learns how to write as he/she grows up and sends the sponsor a thoughtful message in the letter, such as “I wish your happiness,” despite their tough living situation. We also organize a tour to the recipient communities, usually three times a year. We encourage the child sponsors to visit the community they are supporting and see the progress at least twice during the 10 to 15 years of the ongoing development aid. The sponsors may visit the community personally to see the child as well.
A sponsor visiting her child in Vietnam
©World Vision Japan
An annual report telling the growth of the child
©World Vision Japan
What kind of activities are you doing in your advocacy efforts?

Ms. Tanimura: Advocacy is activities that aim to bring to light root causes of poverty, war, or other issues by appealing to government and civil society who have a large influence on the solution of such issues. The word advocacy originally means “to defend,” but our advocacy efforts, in specific, include policy suggestion and enlightenment of people. While we work towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals through our regional development aid and emergency humanitarian relief, there are things we cannot change via these activities. For example, suppose that there is a problem that people in a certain village are not getting a vaccination even though it is available. In this case, the best support we should offer is not visiting the village to give them shots. Instead, it is to lead people to exercise their right by telling them that the village is entitled for vaccination and suggesting that they should talk to public health officials and ask why they are not getting it. We value the importance of such locally-based advocacy efforts, but we also do more global-level activities using our network of about a hundred countries, such as running a campaign to appeal to the G8 summit.

A mini press interview at the international media center to make a “half celebration” of the G8 agreement / G8 Summit in Canada (June 2010)
©World Vision Japan
A performance by World Vision staff members advocating the increase of support for maternal and child healthcare
©World Vision Japan
Tell us about your projects towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

“Build a Globe with Handprints” event at Roppongi Hills
©Kotaro Tsujimoto

Ms. Tanimura: Of those eight goals, the delay in improving maternal and child health is quite serious. To save lives of mothers and children, World Vision has launched a new campaign called “Child Health Now: Together we can end preventable deaths.” Today, about 8.8 million children a year, or one child every three seconds, die before their fifth birthday around the world. It is believed that two thirds of such deaths can be prevented by providing simple needs such as adequate nutrition, basic healthcare, and safe and clean water. To make more Japanese people aware of this fact, we held a special art event, “Build a Globe with Handprints” at Roppongi Hills on April 23 through 25 this year. At the event, we built a frame of the globe with bamboo and asked visitors to show their support of saving children’s lives by making colorful handprints on sheets of paper. For each handprint, our partner companies made a donation to the World Vision Japan, which is to be used to protect the lives of mothers and children in Cambodia. We had many passersby who became interested in and joined the campaign after they learned that they could help us just by providing their handprints. I believe people will remember such a unique experience for a long time. We also called for support on our website and received over 29,000 entries of pictures of hands and messages before the end of the entry period in May.

Handprints and messages from supporters A small handprint from a young supporter
We believe the event provided a great opportunity for many Japanese who didn’t know about those preventable deaths.

Ms. Sobata: I believe so too. Our strength is that we can deliver real voices from people in other parts of the world to people in Japan. At one event, one of our staff members working for Cambodian programs told the audience that many Cambodian women have told her to make as many kids as possible while she is young because children are likely to die. We Japanese rarely think this way. What we hear from local mothers in daily conversations can be a strong and realistic message that depicts the situation those mothers and their children are facing.

Letters from the recipient children of Child Sponsorship
©World Vision Japan
Volunteer members translating letters from the children and sponsors
©World Vision Japan
How about protecting those mothers who are risking their lives in delivering babies?
Ms. Tanimura: About a half million women a year, or one every minute, are dying due to causes related to pregnancy or the delivery of a baby. This rate has not changed for the last 20 years. Further, children who lost their mothers face the risk of dying ten times as much as those with mothers. These are preventable deaths as well, and many mothers’ lives could have been saved if they had delivered the baby in sanitary conditions with help of professionals such as midwives. Many mothers die from malnutrition as well. Those mothers are also expected to carry and deliver as many babies as possible because of the mortality of babies. Therefore, they are often not fully recovered from the previous pregnancy before they deliver the next one, burning out their energy as a result. This requires changing ideas among local men and therefore concerns gender issues as well. To make successful changes to this situation, we need to build a trusting relationship with local people and also to raise local female leaders who can accept changes and commit themselves to pursuing a new direction for their own community. What we see on site in the community is those parents who are working hard with their best knowledge and efforts to raise their children under difficult circumstances. Our role is to support those fathers and mothers so that they can bring the best out of their own abilities.
What action can we take as a first step to support World Vision?

Ms. Tanimura: On the website of the Child Health Now campaign, we are currently collecting signatures from supporters with which we will appeal to world leaders for their support to the improvement of child health. Your participation is always welcome and encouraged. Our goal by 2015 is to receive a million entries of various “actions” taken by the campaign supporters, such as participating in the signature collection, making donations or working as volunteers (“to participate”), reading reports or joining workshops (“to learn”), sending the information about the campaign and ongoing efforts to others (“to communicate”), and so on. As more people become interested in the campaign and start taking actions, it will eventually lead us to a significant strength. As a first step of your support, please sign your name and tell your friends about World Vision Japan.

Tell us about your next goals.

An example of “Love Cake”
from last year’s campaign
©World Vision Japan

Ms. Sobata: Last Christmas, we ran for the first time our new campaign, “Love Cake Project.” For this project, we sold a variety of whole holiday cakes, each of which was missing a small section equivalent to one serving, at the same price as the original whole cake. This way, those who purchased the cake automatically donated the value of one piece of cake. The collected fund was used for supporting children in Kenya who are suffering from food shortage. We received quite a few responses so are expanding the campaign area from the Kanto region to nationwide this year. We are now looking for participating pastry chefs around the country. We want to create more opportunities like this campaign and make it easier for people to be part of our activities in hope that they will become more interested in what we are trying to do.

Do you have any message to our readers?

An office of World Vision Japan

Ms. Sobata: People may feel like they don’t know exactly what to do to help children in developing countries who are suffering from various serious problems. However, I would like people to remember that anything that they can do, including such easy things as signing their names or buying a Love Cake, will certainly contribute to making positive changes to the situations the world’s children are facing. I encourage anyone to first learn about what is going on in those countries and then to start taking actions no matter how small they may be.

Ms. Tanimura: I find that Japanese people tend to be too humble and think that their interest or support wouldn’t do much to help people in the developing countries. But the truth is that many children and their parents whom we support are so encouraged and are proud of themselves by knowing that people in Japan are caring about them. Your support in any form is valued and appreciated much more than what you may imagine. Please take your first step and experience this great feeling.

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