Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
- Offering international exchange opportunities to children in collaboration with embassies -
In Close Up this month we introduce CMC, a non-profit organization dedicated to offering children the chance to participate in experience-rich international exchanges. The organization promotes the Encounter Project - Children Meet Countries (CMC), whereby personnel from embassies in Japan visit schools to socialize with students. Meeting people from another country, hearing the language and learning about a different culture, awakens in children a global perspective and respect for diversity. On this occasion we spoke with the secretary-general who built the CMC Project from the ground up, Miss Tamaki Okada, about these events and her aspirations for the project.
Please tell us what led to the start of the CMC Project.
The head lawyer of a law firm, where I was a long-time employee, opened the door for me to begin the CMC Project. Speaking at a private academy established by the head lawyer to train entrepreneurs, I commented on my desire to have a space where diverse cultures could mingle and bridge the gulf between Japanese people and foreigners. While designing activities using suggestions from the head lawyer, the idea occurred to me to seek help from the approximately 150 embassies in Tokyo to foster international understanding. I thought organizing events for embassy personnel, whose function is to promote friendly relations with Japan, to visit primary schools to socialize with children would serve to broaden the global perspective of young Japanese to become more active in international society. Later, some embassies we had spoken with in the course of our investigations remarked, "We would like very much to collaborate because this concept is part of our mission". We also noted that teachers were receptive to these types of events. In this way the CMC Project began in 2014 as the principal activity of an NPO operated by the head lawyer.
Were there obstacles to overcome before an international exchange event could be hosted?
Having no connections with embassies or schools, in the beginning we had many difficulties to initiate activities. Personnel from the various municipal education boards we visited said, "It might be a good idea," but the idea failed to get traction. We then thought to listen to the frontline forces, but we had no connections with school teachers. We asked various people to help connect us and later met with school principals, but learned that schools were not inclined to host an international exchange event with an NPO lacking prior experience unless sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education or municipality. We asked how to be sponsored and were told that we needed to have prior experience. It was the classic chicken and egg dilemma (laughing). Eventually, through an arrangement with a staff member from the Education Bureau, we were given the opportunity to host an event and in October 2014 were able to connect a public primary school with personnel from the Embassy of Malaysia. This was our memorable first international exchange event. The following year in 2015, the CMC Project was formally sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education and subsequent to this we have been offering events trouble-free.
Can you tell us about the process to prepare for an event?
First, we ask applying schools for more details such as the student grade level, dates, the country they wish to meet, and the desired content of the event. We take charge of negotiating and coordinating with embassies and offer our help before, during and after the event. We elaborate a program doing a variety of research, for example, what advanced preparation should be made to educate the children, whether a child in the school has links to the country, and we also consult with the embassy to iron out the many details. In about 80% of the cases the schools choose a specific country for the event. This is because the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education is promoting the “Global Friendship Project” in which children interact and learn about the countries and regions participating in the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year. Therefore, many schools ask us to stage an event with a country they support in the Global Friendship Project. In situations where schools do not request a specific country, we try to make the best match between the school spirit and individuals in the embassy. Most events are held in primary schools, but if requested we also hold them in junior high and kindergartens.
How does an international exchange event unfold?
The event begins with a greeting in the native language of the country. The native guest speaks about her/his country and also offers a hands-on activity for the children to experience the culture. The children are allotted time to speak directly to the guest and offer a thank-you present, and the program then wraps up in about 100 minutes with handshakes and hugs. Some embassies send several diplomats and staff, others only one diplomat, and on some occasions some even send international students from their country.
What are the enriching moments of this activity?
To see the smiles of everyone who has participated in the activity. The smiles of the children are proof that they truly enjoyed the international exchange. When an apprentice from the French Embassy visited, the children cried when it was time to say goodbye. The smiling teachers commented "what a good event it was" or "the children had a valuable experience". Personnel from the embassies are also pleased, commenting, "I had a great time and it was such a pleasure to meet the children. I hope we can visit again", or, "I feel honored to have shared the culture of my country with the children". Even the smiles of CMC aids supporting the event hearten us. Before becoming involved in this activity, I never thought I would see so many smiles.
Are there problems with your activities?
Two years ago we visited 37 schools and last year 51 schools, so clearly the number of schools we visit is rapidly increasing. However, many schools currently request visits because the Tokyo Metropolitan Government implements the "Global Friendship Project” and receive funds to facilitate this. The end of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics will mark the point at which the true value of the CMC Project can be evaluated. Without funds from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the schools will certainly face difficulties to host international exchange events and it will become increasingly difficult to continue with our activities without broad based support from the public and business sectors. The immediate and major challenge we face is to ensure the ways and methods to obtain funding.
What activities are planned in the future?
We would like that CMC events are seen as a way to practice community multiculturalism. We believe it would be rewarding if, in addition to embassy personnel, foreign residents in Tokyo were given the opportunity to present their culture and socialize with children and adults in the community. If locals ask us, "we would like to socialize with foreign residents from our community but don't know how, can you help?", or, "we seek advice", we would like to help them as much as possible, because we aspire that every Japanese person raises his/her awareness to contribute to world peace with the goal to strive for international harmony and build a society which respects diversity.
Ono Bldg. 3F, 17-15 Kandamatsunagacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0023