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Making global changes for children by children:Free The Children Japan

This month's Close UP features Free The Children Japan (FTCJ), a nonprofit organization whose goal is to solve problems that surround children around the world by the power of children. FTCJ is a Japan branch of Free The Children (FTC), which was originally founded by a 12-year old Canadian boy named Craig Kielburger. FTC has a worldwide network of supporters today, including in Japan where over 300 children members are registered to join a variety of activities to help other children in need. For this interview, we spoke to Nozomi Machii, a supporting child/youth-activities project leader at FTCJ.

Ms. Machii (center) along with two interns

Ms. Machii (center) along with two interns

Please introduce us to how FTC was founded.


Craig and his friends, original founding members of FTC

Craig and his friends, original founding members of FTC
©FTCJ

A.In 1995, 12-year-old Craig saw the news article on the paper about the murder of a Pakistani boy named Iqbal Masih. Craig was shocked to learn that Iqbal was also 12 years old and was a child activist who started his fight against child labor after he himself was saved by an NGO from a carpet factory where he was forced to work. Soon after, Craig decided to organize a group of children to seek what he and his friends could do to help solve issues surrounding other children of the world. Free The Children Japan was established in 1999 by Sanae Nakajima (present representative director of FTCJ), then an exchange student in the United States who learned about FTC and wanted to introduce its activities to people in Japan.

What are the goals of FTCJ?


A.FTCJ has two goals: one is "to free children from poverty and exploitation" and the other is "to free young people from the notion that they are powerless to affect positive change in the world." At FTCJ, we also work towards Japanese children to promote their awareness that there are things kids can do for the world.

We understand that you yourself were an active member of FTCJ when you were at high school.


A. In 2000, Craig came to Japan and held a lecture to mark the publication of the Japanese edition of his book "Free the Children." I went to the lecture, which became a cornerstone of the FTCJ's history. Craig was then 17 and I was 16. At that time, I knew the world was facing lots of problems but didn't think more than that and believed such problems could be solved only by adults. It was a shocking experience for me to know that Craig, who was only a year older than I was, was traveling from country to country to appeal for the elimination of child labor. Craig told me that there were things only kids could do and that such an issue as child labor could attract people's attention much better when the appeal was made by children rather than by adults. I thought I'd better start taking actions soon if there were things I could do before I became an adult, so I decided to join the FTCJ members.

Craig and Ms. Machii at his lecture in Japan in 2000   Ms. Machii as an FTCJ staff member attending India Study Tour in 2011

Craig and Ms. Machii at his lecture in Japan in 2000
©FTCJ

 

Ms. Machii as an FTCJ staff member attending India Study Tour in 2011
©FTCJ

What actions would you encourage young people to take if they are interested in FTCJ's international cooperation activities?


A.Their interest is where all of our actions start from. We encourage anyone interested in FTJC to register as a child member. The registration is free of charge and is open to anyone up to high school students. Once registered, the members will receive a member kit that contains information about our activities. The first thing new members will be asked to do is to learn about the issue of children in the world and communicate it to others. They can read Craig's books and lend the books to their friends. They may rent DVDs from FTCJ and show them at their school. We are also willing to visit schools and speak to students. Craig didn't know everything when he started FTC, but continued his work by doing own research and asking advice from teachers. It is our understanding that learning about the children's issues is a good start to be part of our activities.

What kind of activities are you suggesting to the experienced FTCJ child members?


A.They can join a pen pal program to exchange letters with children of our support recipient countries or participate in study tours to visit the recipient countries and meet local children. They are also encouraged to plan and implement activities by their own to support recipient children. This includes fundraisers by standing on streets for donations or setting up donation boxes. If their school doesn't allow students to collect money, they can still raise funds by collecting damaged but unused postcards, for example. Selling fair-trade products or making panel presentations about child labor at school festivals are also possible. We always encourage our child members to find and do what they can do and what they feel comfortable doing.

Please tell us about a new team activity you just introduced last year.

A.Formerly, our suggestion to the child members was basically to make plans and take actions by themselves. However, some members told us that they were not sure what to do, so we decided to start a team system. At FTCJ, it is very important that each child member is involved in our activities based on what they enjoy to do and what they are good at doing. We describe this policy with an equation; "Gift + Issue = Change." "Gift" indicates each member's favorite and special skills; "Issue" is problem topics in which the members are interested; and "Change" is created by the members through activities that connect these "Gift" and "Issue." For example, we have Chocolate Project team whose goal is to raise funds by selling original chocolates for which the team plans product concepts and packaging designs. The team members are those who love to design or enjoy sales work.

Members of Chocolate Project team packing chocolates

Members of Chocolate Project team
packing chocolates
©FTCJ

What are other teams that are currently active?


A.We have the Kids Reporter team whose members interview people working for various international cooperation activities and publish articles on newsletters and blogs; the Action Kids team which aims to promote awareness of global issues by performing plays; and the Art Kids team whose artistic members create postcards using paintings by children in India and sell the cards to raise funds to support them. We also have the Ambassador team formed by those who enjoy speaking in front of people, and English team formed by those who are good at English. The Fair-Trade team sells fair-trade products at school festivals and international cooperation events, and the Film Creator team edits videos taken during the events and study tours to publish them online at the FTCJ's website and other movie-sharing sites. Making a new team is also encouraged. We are hoping to see a sport-themed team and a music-themed team in the future.

Stage performance by members of Action Kids team   Exhibition by members of Art Kids team

Stage performance by members of Action Kids team
©FTCJ

 

Exhibition by members of Art Kids team
©FTCJ

Please tell us about study tours.


A.The main purpose of our study tour programs is to visit the recipient countries and let participant children experience volunteer works in local communities. Their work will mostly be physical labor such as helping building a school. We have a program in which participants meet and build friendship with local children to learn about the ongoing situation of child labor. In another program, participants visit a FTCJ support recipient village, study about current situations on site, and discuss what types of assistances are needed to improve such situations. Currently, FTCJ operates its independence support program in three countries overseas including India, Mongolia, and the Philippines, and we take our member children to the safest one of these countries and let them observe in what form their activities in Japan have yielded outcomes in the local communities they wanted to help. It is a great experience for children to actually see a school building built by the money they raised and donated. Such experiences seem to make children's commitment even stronger to doing what they can do.

Members on volunteer work at 2011 India Study Tour
  A school in India built with assistance of FTCJ

Members on volunteer work at 2011 India Study Tour
©FTCJ

 

A school in India built with assistance of FTCJ
©FTCJ

It is easy to picture how the positive impact of their experiences from the study tours would give to each child.


FTCJ member enjoying activities with children in a recipient community

FTCJ member enjoying activities with children in a recipient community
©FTCJ

A.At a reflection session that is held following the tour, we always find every child look so refreshed and energetic as they make a report speech. You can see differences in telling about what they have actually seen from telling about what they have learned from TV and books. Each participant sees different things as a problem that should be addressed, and because of that, they are given an opportunity to learn how to explain their own view with their own words. I was once impressed to hear one kid saying that she has decided to stop using the word "help." It indicated that there was a change in her view towards how she should be involved in activities after becoming friends with local children and now she wanted to do what she could do for her friends. The kids become much more motivated about the activities, and start actively making inputs to improve their activities, such as planning to do a street donation for India by wearing sari. Some members of the Action Kids team write new play scripts based on their own experiences during the tour. Having witnessed changes that occur uniquely to each child, I think the study tours provide life-changing experiences to many participant kids.

Can you share with us what the child members are saying about the activities of FTCJ in which they have been involved?


A.They seem to find an excitement in joining different communities from their regular schools. They gain different ideas and views from other member children they meet through FTCJ. Some members say they don't find friends at school with whom they can share interest in global cooperation, and for those kids FTCJ becomes a main place for socialization. It is important that our members enjoy their activities so that the organization can continue to work towards its missions and goals. We want our kids to be self-motivated and continue to have fun with us.

Members of the Kids Reporter team at meeting   Fair-trade bags from the Philippines sold and promoted by the Fair-Trade team

Members of the Kids Reporter team at meeting
©FTCJ

 

Fair-trade bags from the Philippines sold and promoted
by the Fair-Trade team

Lastly, please give a message to our readers.


A.For children who are interested in making changes for the world but not sure what to do, we encourage you to start taking action by learning what the international cooperation is about. If you want to help the global society, nothing starts until you yourself take a step to move. Go out and look for information, and that is also an activity that leads to the international cooperation. FTCJ has diverse activity menus, so register with us first of all with a positive expectation that you will be able to find what you can do, and not with an attitude that you are not capable of doing anything for the world. We do also welcome adults (18 and older) to become part of our activities. If you like children, are interested in international cooperation, and are looking for something you can do for the world from Japan, you can become one of our youth or adult members and support our child members and the operation of our office in various ways.


On June 10 (Sun.), 2012, the FTCJ Action Kids team performed their play about young boy soldiers in Congo, "Fighting Children of Congo," as one of events of the World Day against Child Labor 2012. Their performance as well as an interview with a former boy soldier Michel can be viewed from the site below:
Ustream "FTCJ at World Day against Child Labor 2012"  http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/23208469