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Support 21 Social Welfare Foundation -Supporting Foreign-Born People Settled in Japan to Become Independent-

Director/Secretary General Takahashi (L) and Study Learning Program Coordinator Yazaki (R)

Director/Secretary General Takahashi (L)
and Study Learning Program Coordinator Yazaki (R)

This month’s Close Up introduces the Support 21 Social Welfare Foundation (Support 21), a group that aims to assist foreign-born residents such as refugees, etc.; who are newly-settled in Japan; to achieve a state of lifestyle independence. Under the motto of “extending a helping hand in times of need,” while hoping to realize a society where both Japanese and foreign-born residents are able to walk in step together, Support 21 continues its activities. On this occasion, we spoke to Director/Secretary General Ms. Kyoko Takahashi and the Learning Program Coordinator Ms. Rie Yazaki about the Educational support activities conducted by Support 21.

Q.In that the organization has some history behind it; please tell me about the establishment of Support 21?

A. Ms. Takahashi: Our parent entity was established in 1979 as the Association to Aid Indochinese Refugees. That organization is now known as the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) (which is a recognized non-profit organization). Some 35 years ago when Japan started accepting refugees who had fled their countries of birth so as to escape the horrors of war in Indochina, against a backcloth of both the Japanese government and regional communities not having the necessary settlement-support systems in place, as a private organization, activities were commenced by the Association to Aid Indochinese Refugees. Following on from this, Support 21 was established in 1992 to assume responsibility for the domestic programs conducted by AAR Japan. Currently, we don’t merely cater to the needs of refugees; we also work with Japanese returnees from China and persons of Japanese descent (“Nikkei”). Our Counseling Service provides these people with the information they require to live in Japan. We also have a Scholarship Program for students who face economic hardship, and the financial assistance offered through this program is derived from donations kindly received from the public. There is also the Learning Program that we conduct with the cooperation of volunteers, this program includes Japanese language, computer skills and education classes that supplement curriculum taught in schools, etc. Through such activities, we aim to help people better settle themselves in Japan.

©Support 21 ©Support 21

Scenes from a student presentation, a variety of ages and nationalities study with Support 21. Apparently, there are numerous instances of parents and children studying together.
©Support 21

Q.What are the special features of the Support 21 Learning Program?

A. Ms. Yazaki: In that the targets for our support activities are “foreign-born people settling in Japan as refugees, etc.,” many Learning Program students commute to us by train. This distinguishes us from local Japanese language classes. In that many students desire to both study Japanese thoroughly and greatly improve their language proficiency, our basic approach is the support of individual study built upon established pairs of one student and one volunteer. Concerning the study of kanji characters, etc., if we feel that mutual-encouragement among students will further improve results, we do use group-learning practices. A major issue for us is how to go about offering an effective Learning Program.

©Support 21 ©Support 21

Although one-on-one learning is the basic approach, groups are more effective when individual learning places unreasonable pressure on students.
©Support 21

Q.And another feature of the Learning Program is the range of subjects?

A. Ms. Yazaki: Until a few years ago, everyone who came to study with us was learning Japanese. However, in responding to requests such as “I want to gain PC qualifications” or “My job involves architecture, so I want to be able to handle CAD software,” we began to search for volunteers who could help. Among the requests received, there have even been people who want to learn how to play keyboard instruments. On hearing this, you might assume that such lessons are little more than a form of recreation. However, such creative outlets might help individuals psychologically with their lives here in Japan. Moreover, the process of learning from a Japanese volunteer might also help improve an individual’s language communication skills. Some of our students are also elderly, and within the two hours of a lesson, it is very important for volunteers to thoroughly listen to what these people have to say. Although what individuals are looking for in our lessons varies greatly, from the perspective of supporting our students so they can lead even more comfortable lives in Japan, I feel that our Learning Program plays a very important role.

©Support 21 ©Support 21

In responding to the needs of students, a wide range of courses are offered, everything from computer classes through to hands-on training for the Manicurist Certification Examination.
©Support 21

Q.What sorts of people come forward to help as volunteers?

A. Ms. Yazaki: The Learning Program operates on Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, and among our volunteers there are many full-time company employees in their 20s to their 40s. To express this differently, although these people are part of the working generation and thus very busy with their own lives, it seems many come along to help out having thought about the significance of volunteering. Moreover, our volunteers are not just Japanese. Rather, we have Chinese and Korean volunteers who are also working fulltime.
A. Ms. Takahashi: It has gotten to the stage where people who were previously supported as Scholarship Program students are now coming along to act as volunteers. This is a development that makes me extremely happy.

Q.Do students and volunteers create their own circles to engage in independent activities?

A. Ms. Takahashi: We have a guitar club and an English conversation club, etc. In such settings both students and volunteers start from the basics and learn together. Personally, such social circle activities are something I greatly enjoy. In that everybody who participates in these activities is placed in the same position, people can interact with one another.
A. Ms. Yazaki: We also plan a variety of different events such as rakugo storytelling and senryu classes (a style of humorous or ironic haiku). We also offer courses in good manners, etc. It seems that we will do just about anything (laughing). In many cases projects are undertaken while receiving the cooperation of professionals and companies.

he guitar club is one social circle. All members started out as beginners.©Support 21

The guitar club is one social circle. All members started out as beginners.
©Support 21

A senryu collection created in a senryu class. The students were also invited to write about their feelings when composing their poems.

A senryu collection created in a senryu class.
The students were also invited to write about their feelings when composing their poems.

Q.I’ve heard you’ve published, free-of-charge, the texts and videos, etc., created as teaching materials.

A. Ms. Yazaki: Yes, in believing that the teaching materials created to support our Learning Program students might also be of benefit to others, we decided to publish them free-of-charge on the Support 21 website. Concerning the creation of videos, this commenced as a result of listening to students who attended the Learning Program on the day following the Great East Japan Earthquake. As a result of listening to their opinions, we strongly felt it was necessary to be able to explain disaster-response issues and keywords in easily-understood terms. On realizing this, we felt the most effective means would be to have people look at visual imagery, thus we decided to create the videos. Furthermore, when producing the videos, we received the cooperation of volunteers for everything from scripts, to acting, through to the filming process itself.
We have continued to create videos that raise a number of different situations. Furthermore, so that the teaching materials can even be used in a non-Internet environment, we have summarized the topics of individual videos on single pieces of paper. I should, however, point out that our published teaching materials are nothing special. Then again, because we have created them, we would like them to be used in as many situations as possible.

©Support 21 ©Support 21 ©Support 21

Some of the teaching materials published on the Support 21 website. From left to right: vocabularies in 14 languages, a video, and a video summary on a single piece of paper. Rather than pursuing perfect production values, what is more important is creating something to the fullest extent possible at the time. More information can be found at the following link: Japanese only)
©Support 21

Q.What about the Learning Program, what activities would you like to pursue in the future?

Students and volunteers were asked to freely create illustrations based on the theme “What is the Learning Program”? The response, “a place to think together” resonated particularly strongly.

Students and volunteers were asked to freely create illustrations based on the theme “What is the Learning Program”? The response, “a place to think together” resonated particularly strongly.

A.Ms. Yazaki: We commenced a series of workshops last year with the view to further extending the everyday lives of students. This was done because we want to study topics with them that are of greater value. The workshops cover a range of topics such as food education and nutrition, dental health, financial matters and insurance, etc. They have been very well received in that on each occasion participants have an opportunity to listen to topic specialists. This year we increased the number of workshops and held a series of 10 events. For example, there are limits to what we can do if somebody falls sick, or if somebody seeks our support after getting involved in some form of financial trouble. In this respect, we want all our students to develop a sense of protecting themselves, and developing their knowledge of the wide variety of systems and institutions that are able to help them in times of need. Whatever the case, we want to create a system that would even allow those people who cannot come along to workshop events to also be able to incorporate such content into their daily lives. The other big issue for the future is working with our volunteers to understand what can be done while grasping the needs of our students.

Q.Please offer a message to our readers.

A. Ms. Takahashi: Because both Japanese and people born overseas find themselves sharing a relationship in that they live within the same Japan framework, rather than thinking of one group merely supporting the other, by having the spatial perspective of basically looking around and seeing everyone standing together, I want all of us to be able to walk forward in step. I want everybody to get along as good neighbors. While our needs evolve along with the changing times, I hope our organization continues its activities.


At Support 21, each year we hold a “Student Gathering” where students with links to refugees and foreign countries, etc., get together to discuss the present and the future. This is a presentation and exchange event where students who have been raised in Japan for any number of reasons have an opportunity to interact with students studying at universities and graduate schools. For more information please refer to the following link: Japanese only)