Font size
  • S
  • M
  • L

International Support (Association) of School Construction - Children Have the Right to Learn, No Matter Where They are Born -

© ISSC

Ms. Yurina Ishihara,
Representative Director of the International
Support (Association) of School Construction (ISSC)

April’s Close Up introduces a specified nonprofit organization called the International Support (Association) of School Construction (ISSC), a group that undertakes educational support activities in both Nepal and Laos. When originally founded, the group’s driving conviction was that every child has the right to receive an education, irrespective of where they happen to be born. Moreover, while initially only involved in the construction of schools, so that each child may be given the opportunity to study within a classroom setting, over time ISSC has broadened its activities so that it now also provides scholarships and supplies stationary items as well as teaching materials. A distinctive feature of ISSC is its proactive support of Japanese student groups who possess the desire “to construct schools within developing nations.” On this occasion, we were fortunate enough to speak with ISSC Representative Director Ms. Yurina Ishihara about her group’s activities. In addition to discussing those projects that ISSC undertakes in those countries where it operates, we also inquired what led to Ms. Ishihara getting involved in international support, as well as about her views concerning the nurturing of young Japanese people.

Q. What led you to establish ISSC?

A. Since attending a Christian-run school for both junior and senior high school, I have had many opportunities to volunteer and be involved in social welfare projects. Moreover, when I entered university, I had the strong desire to establish a facility that was capable of looking after children. Despite possessing such dreams, however, the reality of my circumstances was severe in that I lacked the contacts, the money or wisdom to do anything myself. Moreover, when I was a student, the opportunities for somebody like myself to be involved on the front lines of social welfare were basically non-existent. Against such a backcloth, I happened to speak with a friend who was fortunate in that they had become involved in a project whose aim was to build schools in Nepal. Through that discussion, it dawned on me that, even for students like myself who were lacking real previous experience, there were nevertheless opportunities to get involved on the front lines of international support activities. Anyway, once I started my own involvement in such activities, I came to the realization that I really enjoyed the process of building up my track record of experience from what was basically nothing to begin with. I also became interested not just in the building of schools, but in their ongoing maintenance. Accordingly, I took steps to establish ISSC as a voluntary organization. Next, while undertaking ISSC activities in Nepal, I was approached by some Japanese student groups who “also wanted to be involved in the building of schools.” Initially, I remember questioning why such “student groups were approaching a small organization like ISSC.” However, I decided to accept them when I realized that they resembled what I had experienced in my own past. They were passionate in their desire to pitch in and help, however, they had experienced great difficulty in finding nonprofit organizations who would take them seriously. Next, I transformed the nature of ISSC so that it became a specified nonprofit organization. This was done because the structure of an NPO could better support the student volunteers and their activities. Concurrently, ISSC expanded its operational area to Laos, a country that offers a certain stability with respect to matters of public safety.

Q. Please tell me about your activities on the ground.

A. ISSC supports education in Nepal and Laos. In both nations, we are active in impoverished mountain villages and other remote locations. Rather than merely seeking to construct schools, we also offer scholarships to those children who are likely to dropout due to socio-economic factors. In offering scholarships, our aim is to convince parents to keep their children in school “because the family are receiving a scholarship from overseas.” Within impoverished villages there are nevertheless a great many children who quit school so as to help secure income for their homes. Furthermore, as we continue with our support activities within the areas in which we operate, we discover socio-economically disadvantaged members of society, along with disabled children and young girls who have been victims of human trafficking. In light of such developments, in Nepal we have constructed schools for the blind, as well as establishing shelters for women.

Q. Tell me about these shelters.

A. Our shelters are facilities that assist and protect young girls who have fallen victim to human trafficking. Nepal to begin with was a nation where there were many such cases. However, since the major earthquake in April last year, a bad situation has become much worse with there being increasing numbers of children being victimized because they lack the homes or families to protect them. Accordingly, ISSC implemented a project called “For Girl’s Happiness,” with our group being able to establish shelters in two locations as of December last year. Furthermore, so that the girls who now live in our shelters will be able to live independently in the future, we offer them support both in the form of psychological counselling and job training. Currently, they are being taught how to make fashion accessories and felt products. We plan to develop their fashion bracelets into a range of products and sell them here in Japan by the end of this year. We are also working on a supply route whereby felt balls can be sold. Looking to the future, I would like to see the girls we are helping also develop both some computing and Japanese language skills.

©ISSC ©ISSC

To help with both their psychological care and their future independence,
ISSC teaches the girls who live in its shelters how to make fashion accessories and felt balls.
©ISSC

Q. Concerning your education support activities in Nepal and Laos, in what areas are you focusing?

A. While as a socialist country Laos is both peaceful and enjoys good public safety, as might well be expected there are also a range of restrictions in place. Concerning the areas to which we take student groups they are relatively open places. However, for the villagers with whom the students interact, it is sometimes their first time to have dealings with outsiders or visitors from overseas. Thus, part of the projects we undertake also involve interactions with shy children for whom it is difficult to express their own intentions and opinions. That is one area in which there is strong determination exhibited by our Japanese youngsters. Exchange projects that are designed to bring about a transformation for the local children are one area on which we are particularly focusing in Laos.
Meanwhile in Nepal, while the nation possesses a wonderful tourism resource in the form of the Himalayas, the country is one in which development has been stifled due to political instability. The mountain villages and other remote locations in which we operate represent areas where infrastructure has not been developed. Thus, when the rainy season comes we are unable to get into the villages. Moreover, there is a great discrepancy between the lives that people lead in metropolitan areas as opposed to those in the country, and such variances may be directly linked to a difference in educational standards. The issue that confronts ISSC is how should we best go about helping children attend school in those areas that nobody really thinks about.

Q. How do you go about integrating student groups from Japan into your activities?

A. Initially, the student groups themselves establish the objective of “wanting to construct a school.” From that point, we first have them collect funding equivalent to one-third of the construction costs. Once that has been achieved, we will organize a tour for the group within those areas in which ISSC operates. This allows them to see potential locations for a school. When this happens, some students can feel conflicted once they realize that the decisions they make concerning where to build a school will directly and greatly impact the future lives of local children. Next, once they have managed to amass a second round of funding equivalent to another one-third of the construction costs, we will again organize a study tour that allows the students for the first time to witness the school they are sponsoring being built. Finally, the school in question is completed around the time that the students have managed to collect the final one-third of funding, with the whole process taking between one-and-a-half and two years. What leads significantly to the personal growth of the students is that they gain experience while learning from their mistakes. Thus, rather than feeling that they are supporting a project, I am often told by students that they have been “given the opportunity to offer their support.” Concerning such young people, I believe that for ISSC, which is mainly involved in overseas support activities, the single thing that we can do for contemporary Japan is to return these students to this country as people who have matured through the activities they have undertaken.

©ISSC ©ISSC

(Left) A meeting with students involved in support activities.
(Right) A student group undertaking an inspection tour and survey on the ground in Laos.
©ISSC

Q. On a personal level, why did you become interested in volunteering and international support?

A. From a young age, I questioned the nature of this country. “Japan is a wealthy nation where people should be considerate of others, however, why are there so many children in orphanages? Why do people lack compassion towards the disabled and the elderly?” These are questions I struggled with. Moreover, over time I realized that the answer to them is simply “indifference.” Because people are indifferent to the plight of others, there is a tendency to dismiss things with a single phrase “I don’t know.” Moreover, concerning how people should actually show compassion, by and large they seem to have no idea until they are the elderly or the disabled themselves. Thus, as a first step, I wanted to change the “don’t know” mentality, and to become a person who was able to seek out a path that would resolve such issues through my own actions. Indeed, I would have to say that there have also been many significant difficulties, however, in looking back on my personal involvement, I feel that it has been a very positive experience. As to why that is the case, I feel that all I have experienced has helped me to grow as a human being.

©ISSC ©ISSC

Ms. Ishihara with some of the children that ISSC supports.
©ISSC

Q. In the future, in what areas would you like to focus your activities?

©ISSC

A. I would like to put more effort into supporting the Nepalese girls who have been victims of human trafficking. Indeed, I would have to say that the opportunity we have experienced through offering protection to the girls who live in our shelters has been truly humbling. The question is what we should do so that they view their own lives in a positive light. What is very important is that the girls be able to stand and go forward on their own two feet. With respect to them learning job skills through work training in order that they are able to confidently return to society, in the future I would like to develop a system that will allow us to draw on the power of Japanese students. If we can produce a role model through our efforts who is perhaps able to become a successful accessory designer, or establish their own company, I feel that such a development will greatly encourage the others. My objective at the moment is to develop such human resources.