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Hiromi Kaizawa

Hiromi Kaizawa
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Deliverables of the community and students

--From the Volunteer Center

Hiromi Kaizawa
Coordinator, Chuo University Volunteer Center

Universities as part of the community

Community-Building Residents Fair (Hino City)

It will soon be four years since the founding of the Chuo University Volunteer Center in 2013. Through volunteer activities based in the earthquake disaster areas of Miyako City (Iwate Prefecture), Kesennuma City, and Onagawa Cho (both in Miyagi Precture), students are gradually becoming an essential element to community residents. In a portion of coastline areas in East Japan, residents treat Chuo students as if they were raising their own children—with both demanding and affectionate attitudes. These volunteer activities also benefit students by serving as a place for learning many new things. Moving forward, I will continue to conduct community-based activities with students.

Now, let’s shift our focus to the Tama region around Chuo’s Tama Campus; for example, communities such as Hachoji City and Hino City. In this region where many universities are located, how do residents view Chuo students? As a coordinator, I spend time in the community and have many opportunities to meet with various residents including government officials and representatives of NPOs/NGOs. Put simply, it seems that residents have high expectations from Chuo students, but also feel that they should assume a greater role in the community. Personally, before beginning my work at Chuo University, I never could have imagined the degree of expectations for universities to function as part of the community. Furthermore, I often feel that such expectations are quite vague. Of course, in today’s declining birthrate and aging population, the mere presence of young people invigorates a community. Although still uncertain in many ways, the power of youth is a strong force containing limitless potential. At the Volunteer Center, we have worked to decipher the vague expectations from the community, to encourage participation by students in order to unlock the potential ability which cannot be learned in a classroom, and to serve as a new bridge between the community and students.

What do students learn from the community?

Disaster-preparedness event held at children’s recreational facilities

There are many various forms of student involvement in the community. In addition to practical exercises and fieldwork of classes and seminars, connection with community residents is also essential in a variety of activities such as internships and part-time work. In all cases, students are important stakeholders who play a key role in the community. Entering the community as a volunteer has a number of unique and tangible benefits which include developing the independence and initiative to act according to one’s own intentions, and the exclusion of personal interests.

Actual activities of the Volunteer Center include children’s programs (children’s recreational facilities, orphanages, children’s associations, after-school care facilities) operated by student-led volunteer clubs, welfare facilities, and activities for disabled children. Additionally, since the founding of the Volunteer Center, there has been an increase in new relationships with Japan National Council of Social Welfare and city offices. Overall, a positive relationship is being constructed with the local government. Furthermore, in order to incorporate lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake into disaster-preparedness in the Tama region, students actively participate in activities to prepare for and prevent disasters in the Hino and Hachoji communities. In 2014, a total of more than 80 students participated in a variety of community-building activities which incorporated numerous volunteer elements and were mainly held in the Tama region. One example of these activities was how students fulfilled a central role in the planning and operation of disaster prevention events. In 2015, numerous students participated in disaster-preparedness events led by the local residents’ association. Furthermore, the Volunteer Center oversaw new regional and community-building activities in the fields of environment, agriculture and social welfare. Overall, a new record was set in 2015 for the total number of student volunteers.

Taking a break along a river in undeveloped woodland near populated area

Until now, students had passed through the regions surrounding Chuo University when commuting to school. However, participating in community activities in these regions causes the perspectives of students to change greatly. For example, consider the case of students who are studying with the vague goal of becoming a civil servant. By witnessing first-hand the vigor with which civil servants work with citizens, students are able to create a clearer picture of their future career. Another example is when students experienced farm work for the first time. These students learned about agriculture and the importance of cultivating life, leading them to start cooking for themselves and exposing them to a whole new world. Furthermore, through their first opportunity to interact with disabled individuals, other students were able to break down barriers in their own hearts and achieve new growth. Regions which students had passed through thoughtlessly on their way to school have now transformed into communities which contain a variety of elements for learning and expanding into new horizons. I have the good fortune of working in a profession which allows me to see that moment when students grow.

Barriers confronting students

However, while interacting with students during my daily work, I strongly feel difficulties encountered by students in terms of timing. The first difficulty is “taking the first step.” This can be much more daunting than adults would image. For students who come to the Volunteer Center with no previous volunteer experience, it can be quite difficult to take the first step to volunteering as recommended by coordinators. Although it depends on the person, there are many students who have a surprisingly hard time taking that first step by simply communicating by telephone or email. Even in the case of students who have taken that initial step and experienced the reward of volunteer activities, it is difficult to continue and take further steps in volunteering. Currently, there are numerous students who are satisfied with their first volunteer experience and lack the desire for more learning and experiences. In addition, there are other barriers which are unique to students, such as unstable emotions and volatility due to graduation.

Through a process of trial-and-error, staff at the Volunteer Center will continue to learn together with students, finding the optimal way to support for taking first steps and the best measures for encouraging continued involvement in volunteer activities.

Interacting with students as a coordinator

Ideally, a coordinator interacts with students through daily meetings with students who are interested in volunteer activities or who have experience as a volunteer, providing support for increasing the significance of these activities. While working at a volunteer center which is within the educational institution of a university, I feel the difficulty and complexity of finding ways to interact with students in order to encourage them to embrace experience for further personal growth. During my previous job at an NPO conducting international volunteer activities, the majority of students whom I dealt with were mainly of the same type. However, the students whom I encounter while working at Chuo University are truly diverse, so I learn new things related to my work every day.

While considering the unstable emotions which are unique to students, I will continue to work my hardest to provide the best possible support to students while organizing information to enable continued volunteer activities, with expectations from adults and the community as positive stimuli.

Providing students with opportunities for deeper learning

People working as student coordinators tend to rely on their prior experiences and intuition. From the perspective of students, students are told many different things by many different adults, and there is the risk for mixed messages and confusion.

Therefore, instead of relying entirely on experience and intuition, the Volunteer Center is currently focusing on providing an “instruction based on explicit knowledge.” For this, we have been working to create unique indices for assessing the growth phase of individual students since 2015. What experiences and abilities are possessed by students whom we support? How should we interact with students being able to achieve growth in certain areas in the future? Although it may not be possible to immediately find the answers to such difficult questions, we are working to provide the best possible support to students. Cooperation from external parties is part of this process. During the limited time frame of four years at university, we seek to provide outstanding support which will provide students with outstanding experiences through volunteer activities, ultimately becoming a huge asset in their future lives.

Conclusion

Disaster prevention event at elementary school (Hino City)

Continuing from 2015, as a joint project between the community and the university, we will hold the "Student Volunteer Activity Presentation and Disaster-Preparedness Event" from February 4th to 11th. Through cooperation between Chuo University and five other universities in the Tama region, as well as local governments and regional volunteer centers, the event will be held at Aeon Mall Tamadaira Woods (Toyoda Station), a commercial facility where many local residents gather (see homepage). In addition to a panel photograph exhibition which will be displayed during the event period, we are preparing a variety of events for the whole family to enjoy on February 6th (Saturday). Some of the planned events include a presentation on volunteer activities, disaster-preparedness games, disaster-preparedness attractions, and sales of regional goods to support Tohoku. I hope that this project will be an opportunity for even more students to connect with the community and take a step forward into a new world.

Hiromi Kaizawa
Coordinator, Chuo University Volunteer Center
Hiromi Kaizawa was born in 1975 in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture. She graduated from the Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Law in Doshisha University. After founding the Kansai Office of an NPO which plans and operates overseas volunteer activities, she became a CSR (corporate social responsibility) consultant. She assumed her current position in April 2015. She also holds the position of Vice-President & Director for the NPO NICE (Never-ending International workCamps Exchange).