Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
- Creating a welcoming place for foreign mothers -
In Close Up this month we introduce Kusanone Kokusai Koryu no Kai - Koala Circle. Based in Kita City, it is a merging of “Kusanone Kokusai Koryu no Kai(Grass-roots International Exchange Association)”, a group founded with the mission to examine and address issues affecting local residents due to multiculturalism, with the "Koala Circle", a gathering of foreign mothers supported by Kusanone Kokusai Koryu no Kai. During the 25 years since its founding in 1994, the group has worked to eliminate the loneliness and worry of those immersed in a different culture, mainly foreign mothers. On this occasion we spoke with representative, Ms. Yoshiko Nagai, about the origins of the group and details of its activities.
Please tell us what led to the establishment of Kusanone Kokusai Koryu no Kai - Koala Circle.
Kusanone Kokusai Koryu no Kai was founded by volunteers who were past participants of a series of lectures on Japanese language teaching, which was organized by the Kita City Central Park Cultural Center in 1994. Because Kita City was becoming increasingly multicultural, Kusanone Kokusai Koryu no Kai began with the goal of taking the initiative to promote fellowship between foreign and local residents, using the knowledge gained in the lectures. A public health nurse from Kita City told one of our members around that time, "When I visited a foreign mother at her home to check her newborn, it worries me that she appeared to be very lonely ", and as a result, we began to create a welcoming place for foreign mothers. The Kamiya Children´s Center offered a venue, and with the cooperation of public health nurses, our volunteers invited mothers who attended the Japanese language class where we volunteered. In this way we were able to offer a place where foreign mothers could meet once per week, which was named the Koala Circle.
What are the main activities?
Every Wednesday morning we offer foreign mothers with small children the opportunity to meet in the Japanese style room in the Kamiya Children´s Center. Kusanone Kokusai Koryu no Kai volunteers create as relaxing an atmosphere as possible, listening to any problems mothers may be experiencing and giving them the chance to speak their maternal language with their compatriots. In addition, a public health nurse from Kita City visits several times per year to offer advice on child rearing and health. We also organize a language class two times per month to help participants learn Japanese tailored to their level and wishes. Once per month we plan an outdoor event such as cherry-blossom viewing, a BBQ, fruit picking, or an Imoni (stewed-potato party). The majority of these events are held on weekends and are very popular because all the family, including fathers, can participate. Some events attract up to 50 participants. It is a lot of work preparing these events, however we plan various events to present Japanese culture, society and customs, with the hope that participants can blend in with the community in a natural way.
How involved are the mothers in the activities?
It seems they deeply enjoy conversing with other mothers from the same country in their own language at the Koala Circle gathering, and it brings them an inner peace. Some mothers became friends with one another, and this led to mutual support---visiting each other's houses, sharing recipes, caring for the kids of mothers needing help. It gave us much pleasure when after participating with their children in our gatherings, some mothers volunteered to help with our activities. I am happy with all of my heart to have continued with the activities over the long term.
What are the problems experienced with the activities?
For over 25 years we have slowly and steadily offered activities with the goal to create a welcoming place for mothers coming from abroad. However, in recent years there have been fewer mothers participating in the Koala Circle. The number of mothers who work during the day, and therefore unable to attend on weekdays, has increased, but events planned for weekends and holidays are very popular. We feel that we have put the cart before the horse because our priority is to create a welcoming place to belong. Of course, there must be mothers with newborns who don't work, and we will examine ways on how to inform these mothers of our activities so that they may participate. Another problem is the limited number of volunteers who are able to help on weekdays because most of them work.
What sort of activities have you planned for the future?
Japan is a country prone to many natural disasters. We have recently experienced several earthquakes and floods in a row in different parts of the country, and to address this we want to put our efforts into creating activities to raise the awareness of foreign residents regarding disaster prevention. In the Kita City Disaster Prevention Center, located in Takinogawa, one can experience the shaking of earthquakes and the smoke of fires, and also receive training in first aid and on the use of an extinguisher to control fire in the early stages. We would like to visit the center with our members this year. In addition, there is much changeover with mothers leaving and new mothers coming, therefore we would like to regularly offer an event to present emergency relief supplies in case of disasters.
Our primary wish is that foreign residents can one day integrate naturally into the community and organizations like ours can come to an end. Until that day comes, we will continue to offer our activities, slowly and steadily over the long haul.
Ono Bldg. 3F, 17-15 Kandamatsunagacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0023