June 2018

Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.

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NPO Nature Center Risen

- Raising sensitivity through environmental education by providing enriching experiences with nature -

This month’s issue of Close Up introduces the NPO Nature Center Risen. The Nature Center Risen is an NPO offering the general public environmental education activities in educational fields and communities based on providing enriching experiences with nature. Through environmental education, the organization hopes to foster unfettered sensitivity and scientific thinking that contribute in creating a sustainable society which can coexist with nature. We had the opportunity to speak with the president of the NPO, Ms. Miyoko Iwama, and with a staff at the secretariat, Ms. Hiroko Miyakawa, on the activities of Nature Center Risen that are in high demand in many regions because of its solid reputation for creating customised and detailed programs.

In the office of the Nature Center Risen.
President Miyoko Iwama (left) and
Ms. Hiroko Miyakawa (right)

Please tell us the background of how the NPO was established.

Ms. Iwama

I had the opportunity to meet many different people before the NPO was established. For example, in Miyagi Prefecture where I was born, I became an artist in my twenties using natural dyeing with plants and had the good fortune of meeting experts in science and art. My child was born around the same time as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred and I was able to meet colleagues to share serious discussions on food security and safe places for our children to play, and I met people in the educational field while my children were growing up. While living in Miyagi Prefecture I volunteered to teach natural dyeing with plants to children and organize activities to observe nature. But it was after moving to Tokyo that I began to receive requests from children’s community centers and schools to give talks to the children as an instructor and to assist with environmental education. I was invited to present these activities because I was involved in organizing volunteer childcare groups where the kids played outside and parents took turns to care for them, as well as in making plans of developing playgrounds. I was also a member of a local committee of the city dedicated to environmental planning. Later many colleagues sought to work with me, and with requests increasing from schools and school boards, I founded the NPO in 2008.

Children participating in a nature observation
activity in the schoolyard of their elementary
©Nature Center Risen

Recycling experiments in junior high school
©Nature Center Risen

Please tell us about your main activities.

Ms. Iwama

We are developing environmental education activities for educational fields and communities. When an elementary, junior or senior high school solicits environmental education curriculum, in addition to course planning for the year we also coordinate invitations to guest instructors such as journalists and university professors for the course. Needless to say, Nature Center Risen personnel also act as instructors. Having received requests from prefectural education offices and environment bureaus, we also offer environmental education training courses for teachers.

Ms. Miyakawa

To tell the truth, the elaboration of an annual course plan for schools is not an easy matter. In meetings with the school, we ask detailed questions about the objective of the course, how the course is currently being presented, the number of class hours, the peculiarities of the community, and even the personality of the teachers. We later perform an environmental assessment of the school and visit every corner of the schoolyard, evaluating trees, soil, air, water, etc., perform another assessment of the surrounding area, and then produce a course plan. The preparation of a tailored program for every school requires much effort and time.

What are the most important considerations in activities related to environmental education?

Ms. Iwama

We like to present environmental education based on providing enriching experiences with nature. We endeavor to nurture the senses to be part of nature by offering experiences that place the children in direct contact with the environment: to grasp, to smell, to be surrounded by nature etc. This enables the children to realize, “I am not alone”, which can be a vital force in life. Currently there are many children afraid of touching soil. This tends to be most notable in large cities and there are now parents that require their children to wear cotton gloves to work with potting soil. It is for this reason that we want the kids to have contact with nature in their schoolyard, a place with which they are familiar, and develop a love for the natural environment in the community they were born and raised in. I presented this point in the book I penned, Environmental Education Begins in the Schoolyard, while a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's liaison council for promotion of environmental education.

We have heard that you offer support to municipal environmental activities.

Ms. Iwama

As requested by Toshima Ward, during the last school year we were environmental education instructors in the city’s elementary schools and we organized gatherings to observe nature as part of the environmental education course offered to residents. We also prepared a walking map Toshima Zukan (an illustrated reference guide to Toshima Island) based on the tourist and environmental map we previously elaborated as a project commissioned by Toshima village of the Izu Islands. On Mikura-jima Island, also part of the Izu Islands group, we offered support to introduce renewable energy and to implement environmental education from 2009 to 2011. It was while I was involved with the activities on Mikura-jima Island that the Great East Japan Earthquake struck…I cannot forget the islanders pleading with me, that instead of helping them, I must return as soon as possible to my natal town in Miyagi Prefecture which had suffered damage from the tsunami. Later, we completed a study of affected areas to determine how to best offer our support. We helped repair photos damaged in the ocean floods and restored an antique map, a cultural asset, in Ofunato City of Iwate and Shiogama City of Miyagi.

Teaching material, pamphlet, map, etc. completed as a result of
activities on Mikura-jima Island and Toshima Island.
©Nature Center Risen

Repairing photos damaged by salt water immersion in
an area affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
©Nature Center Risen

We heard you are expanding your activities internationally, is this so?

Ms. Iwama

At a Regional Teacher Training Center (RTTC) for elementary and junior high school teachers in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia, we trained science teachers to assume responsibility of environmental education. When a member of our NPO visiting Cambodia commented on the possibility of Nature Center Risen offering assistance, we initiated a field study and concluded that though we could not offer family housing nor build schools, we could help by training teachers. An observation from our local counterpart greatly impacted us: “Possessions can be damaged or lost, but education endures. Please train our teachers”. We are currently elaborating an environmental education curriculum as a project for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to assist Cambodia in overhauling the teacher training program, from a 2-year RTTC course to a 4-year Teacher Education College (TEC) course.

Cambodian students observing nature in the schoolyard
©Nature Center Risen

President Iwama watching students challenging natural dyeing with plants
©Nature Center Risen

In addition, we fulfilled the request of a private company to offer environmental education at an elementary school in Quang Ninh Province of Vietnam. We have focused on the serious water pollution problem of Ha Long Bay, a tourist destination known for its scenic beauty, by preparing 2 supplementary readers on environmental education which provide children the opportunity to learn more about their environment. As a conclusion to the study, on the last day of the 2-year environmental studies class, we visited Ha Long Bay with the children. As Vietnamese schools do not offer outdoor classes, this outing was well received by the students and left a lasting impression.

Vietnamese children learning about water.
©Nature Center Risen

Outdoor class at Ha Long Bay
©Nature Center Risen

Can you tell us of any concerns you have with the activities of the organization?

Ms. Iwama

How to ensure we have enough funds to support activities. The Nature Center Risen has many personnel from generalists to specialists, and we are fortunate to benefit from their collective intelligence and stamina. We have many ideas on how we want to move forward. However, the reality is that we don’t have enough funds to make it all happen. It is vexing that our ambitions are stymied even though many people are waiting to receive our help. With all our hearts we hope that more organizations or individuals support our activities and contribute over the long term.

Could you talk about plans for the future development of activities?

Ms. Iwama

Our activities have no format and a program is conceived from scratch for each project. If we apply one program with minor modifications to various projects, the result is not education but simply an event. We will work hard to offer tailored programs which meet all the needs for every educational fields and community that ask for our help.

Tokyo International Communication Committee

Ono Bldg. 3F, 17-15 Kandamatsunagacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0023
TEL:03-5294-6542 FAX:03-5294-6540