Font size
  • S
  • M
  • L

Tokyo Voluntary Action Center (TVAC)
--- Supporting those who engage in volunteer activities! ---

Akiko Yagi, an expert advisor

(in charge of consultation)

This month's Close UP features the Tokyo Voluntary Action Center (TVAC), which promotes and supports volunteer/civic activities mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area in cooperation with various organizations and institutions. This time, we talked to Ms. Akiko Yagi, an expert advisor (in charge of consultation) about the role TVAC plays as well as what activities it performs.

Please tell us about the mission and main activities of TVAC.

The reception counter of TVAC

A.Our role is to provide various kinds of support to volunteer groups, NPOs, and civic organizations, making their activities easier. Of our activities, we think the most significant is our information and consultation services, which are available to anyone who wants to be involved in any future volunteer activities, or is now engaged in volunteer work.

How do you provide information to such persons?

The open space where organizations’ materials are displayed

A. Considering that more and more people get information online these days, we focus on information services through the Web. We post information about volunteer recruitment and our events on the site, "Voluntary-Civic Web." Printed newsletters and flyers of various organizations are also displayed at the Center itself - so if the excess of data on the general Internet makes it difficult for you to use the Net, please come to the center to read these documents. The actual newsletters and flyers we think will give you a concrete image of the organization. In addition, you can also visit the Information Center, which provides written materials and reports published by several different institutions, and which cannot be found on the shelves of ordinary bookstores. Recently, people have visited the Information Center to research what kind of support activities were provided to disaster areas at the time of past earthquakes, such as the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake or the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake.

What kind of advice do people want from TVAC?

A. One particular feature is that 60 percent of all requests are made by volunteer groups or NPOs. Companies or other volunteer centers may also request advice or consultation. The most common request made by organizations is about volunteer operations and management. For example, they ask questions regarding what type of operations or projects should they perform, about how they should handle financial problems, or how they can best recruit new members or volunteers. There are no fixed answers to these questions, and thus we listen carefully to the details of each situation, and we may introduce case examples of other organizations if any are pertinent. Volunteer groups and NPOs have started up their organizations at their own free will, and so they have no choice but to manage their work by themselves. Our mission is, we believe, to help them to clarify their ideas and to decide exactly how they should do things.

What kind of advice do individuals tend to ask for?

A. Individuals tend to want to know what type of activities exist for persons interested in volunteer work. They usually express no interest in a particular field, but simply have a vague idea that they want to perform volunteer work. Talking with them, we always learn that they do have some particular interest or individual requirements, and thus we introduce activities that meet their needs. For example, when they want to do volunteer work near their home, we introduce their local volunteer center.

A corner where books and goods are sold

Rice cracker, "Volasen," for sale

Did the number of consultation requests increase after the Great East Japan Earthquake?

A. We received so many inquiries in March and April, but now somewhat fewer. Of course, the number of people who are participating in volunteer activities has increased. On top of that, some people seemed to have had another chance to think about volunteerism, asking themselves such questions as what is the fundamental idea of volunteerism, and what kind of activities exist in addition to those for quake victims, and so on.

You are also providing a lot of information on the earthquake on the Website, aren't you?

A. It was difficult to respond to all inquiries right after the earthquake because not only volunteer centers in the disaster area, but also this center, received so many phone calls requesting information. We thus tried to post on the Website detailed information, such as how to get to the disaster area, etc. In response to many inquiries from foreign people, we also provided online information services in English in the early post-quake period. Considering that things have changed from moment to moment at the time of disaster, regarding, for example, required items and volunteers, as well as the conditions under which they were being accepted, online services which enable information to be continuously updated on a real-time basis are very useful.

You have also recruited Tokyo citizens for volunteers in the disaster area, haven't you?

A.The volunteer program for Tokyo citizens to support the disaster area of the Great East Japan Earthquake has been conducted with the support of the Tokyo metropolitan government. As of June 7, applications are being accepted for the 13th Program. Although volunteers who go to the affected area generally have to pay themselves for all costs and expenses including transportation, accommodation, and tools, this program provides them with transportation by bus to and from the area as well as accommodation. Guidance and instructions are also provided in advance, which makes it easier for beginner volunteers to join as well.

Tokyo citizens working as volunteers

Can anyone apply for the volunteer program for Tokyo citizens?

A.As a general rule, only residents, regular workers, and students in Tokyo can apply. Since any nationality or gender is accepted, some foreigners can participate in the program, and both foreign males and females have joined our program, at roughly 60-50 rates by gender. As a matter of fact, being gender-balanced is very important in the volunteer activities. It may be difficult for female victims of the disaster to tell or ask male volunteers something, and the opposite may be also true. Therefore we organize volunteer team members who work at the disaster area so that they are gender-balanced.

Tokyo citizens working as volunteers

How long do Tokyo citizens work as volunteers?

Tokyo citizens working as volunteers

A. For a week. Some people think it is too long, but we think a certain length of time is necessary because sharing the same time by working together enables both victims and volunteers to build good mutual relationships, making it easier for victims to tell volunteers what they really need. This is the same in the case of volunteer activities where the Japanese language is taught to foreigners. The more time volunteers and foreigners share together communicating with each other in Japanese, the more deeply the volunteers understand about what foreigners need most in their daily life.

What did you feel through the activities for this earthquake disaster?

A. It is people who are socially vulnerable in the first place that are affected most severely by such an earthquake disaster. The elderly who live alone, the disabled, families with small children, foreigners who do not understand the Japanese language, and others tend to become more vulnerable and left behind during the recovery stages. In light of this situation, the disaster rescue and relief largely depend on well-organized social welfare services and support activities provided on a routine basis. This time, for example, several different organizations immediately provided multi-language information for foreign residents in the disaster area. This is largely due to two facts: 1) people who have engaged in daily support activities for foreigners living in Japan have studied how to provide information at the time of disaster, and 2) such volunteers have constructed a nationwide network since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. We truy realize how important continuous daily activities are.

Could you give your message to the readers?

A.This earthquake disaster gave more opportunities to hear the word, "volunteer," which has now become more familiar to more people. It's really not such a difficult concept. Why don't you try to do some volunteer activity? TVAC holds an annual "Summer Volunteer Campaign" for volunteer beginners, plus about 3,000 volunteer programs, including a one-day volunteer activity in different areas in Tokyo, are available to you this year. You can choose the best program for you from various fields ranging from communication with children, the elderly, and the disabled, to healthcare, international exchanges, and environmental conservation. Many people from elementary school students to seniors have joined the programs, and recently the number of working people has increased. Thus, as a volunteer, you will be able to communicate with people of many different backgrounds. We also hope that people who had experience as a beginner volunteer in the disaster area will continue to undertake volunteer activities in their own local areas.

People joining the Summer Volunteer Campaign