Thanks to your generous support, Mirai no Mori welcomed 86 at-risk children to summer camp this August. We held three camp sessions in Miyagi Prefecture, with each camp running four nights and five days. A new high of eleven children’s welfare facilities participated, with representatives from each of the three disaster-affected prefectures: Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate.
Each week, some of the most popular activities included stream walking and waterfall climbing, high ropes challenges, and the bonfire on the final night. We also had a great response to the activity stations that kids could explore in their free time. With the help of our international staff and volunteers, they could try their hand at everything from making ice cream to starting a fire without a match.
Along with outdoor adventure and nature experiences, another key element of Mirai no Mori camps is real-life English. These abused, neglected, and orphaned children are typically behind grade-level performance in most subjects. As they move into adulthood they are simply not equipped for a competitive job market. Using English to have a blast in the outdoors provides confidence and motivation they can carry back to school in the autumn.
According to camp director Jeff Jensen, “One of our veteran campers, a 14 year old boy, used English every chance he could - even with fellow campers - even though he was obviously a little embarrassed to. It was clear he was pretending to make fun on his own English to amuse his peers but you could see he enjoyed - and felt proud of himself for - interacting with the Mirai no Mori staff in English. This opened the way for other, less confident campers to try their English as well.”
Ever since our first camp just a few months after the 3/11 disaster, we’ve been clear that this is a multi-year program. Kids have the chance to return each year to continue their growth and discovery. Especially in our repeat campers, we are seeing abundant evidence of the benefits of this ongoing approach - benefits that last long after camp.
“The caretakers of one of our girls reported back to us after camp,” said camp manager Kozue Oka. “They had been struggling to get her to go to school, but after the camp, she was much more willing to go.” Another participant who stood out for Kozue was a high school boy who made an obvious effort to help first-time campers get involved and feel positive about the camp. “At the campfire on the last night, he stood up and gave a heart-warming closing speech, which was inspiring to not just the other campers but to us too.”
One inspiration he gave us was the determination to accelerate development of a Leader in Training (LIT) program. The LIT program will provide high school age campers like him with hands-on training aimed squarely at preparing them for life after they must leave the children’s welfare facilities at age 18. Participants will learn basic work skills, improve their English, and hone their leadership abilities. In following seasons they will even become paid camp staff, supplying them with a financial cushion and a strengthened resume when they begin living independently.
From now until next summer, Mirai no Mori will work to develop the LIT program and to evolve all other aspects of the camps. We will also be busy building and maintaining relationships with the children’s welfare homes, staying in touch with our campers via newsletters and visits, and of course raising funds so that we can keep the benefits coming to the kids.
We are overflowing with gratitude to the worldwide community that has supported and followed our work. Thank you so much. Please stay with us on this adventure of outdoor fun, learning, and hope.
We have also been researching how we can bridge the digital divide.
There are some children who are unfortunately deprived of the right to stand at the same start line when they enter society at 18. Only 9% of children in these homes in Japan go to college and about 1/3 of these children are academically at least two grade levels their peers. Our mission is to guarantee the same start line for all children in Japan irrespective of their background through access and the tools of technology. It is time we bridge the digital divide that currently disadvantages children living in these homes and develop the necessary 21st Century Skills (http://p21.org) to prepare them for a bright future.
The Digital Natives program is built on the philosophy that access to the Internet can be a viable tool for children to communicate, explore and learn. Simultaneously, the digital medium is fast becoming our go-to and primary source for accessing all kinds of essential services and information; job seeking, government programs, health information, etc. The skills required to access this information are indispensable.
The model is built on remote hosting utilizing cloud management backed by a high level of filtering and security by Amazon Web Services. The #1 reason children do not have access to technology is the fear the children will access adult sites and excessive violence. Educating the staff at these homes of the level of security and safety therefore is one of our top priorities. An array of software programs will be hosted in the cloud to bridge the academic gap and to provide skills training to prepare these children for college and the workforce. We are looking to feed imaginations, bolster self-confidence and improve overall motivation with these children.
We look forward to collaborating on bridging this Digital Divide with your sponsors.
Summer is here! Even as we write this, kids from Tohoku children’s homes are creating incredible memories at summer camp - thanks to the ongoing generosity of the Global Giving community! It’s another great summer of hiking, swimming, climbing, crafts, campfires, and lots of other healthy fun in the outdoors. With the help of supporters like you, we have invited 100 at-risk children to this summer’s camps!
This is our third summer providing outdoor camps for some of the most vulnerable children from the disaster affected areas. The continuity of this project has allowed us to see real progress from season to season.
Building Trust, Communication, Leadership
Many children are now camp veterans. We see returning campers opening up more, communicating more freely with us and with their fellow campers. They are becoming true leaders, helping new campers feel welcome and helping them understand what camp is all about. Together, we are creating a culture of support, trust, and FUN for children who haven’t had nearly enough of those.
It’s not only the children making progress. We are building stronger relationships with the staff of the children’s homes, involving them far more in every aspect of the camps. In June we visited several children’s homes in Tohoku, to learn more about the kids’ daily life and struggles, while seeking advice and listening to the hopes of their caretakers. The home staff made it clear that they want to be active participants in the camps, which is wonderful. They told us that at camp they can see the children in a new light, and deepen their relationships in ways they don’t always have time or energy for in their daily life.
The home staff also stressed the effects that camp has long after summer is past. For example, at camp we very deliberately model - and expect - kind, polite, and respectful speech. It simply makes for a more pleasant camp atmosphere, and reduces the number of conflicts arising between campers. But the effects don’t stop there. The staff of several homes reported that the children continue these communication habits after camp, influencing the atmosphere and relationships of the entire children’s home!
Climbing to the Next Level Together!
Seeing how far the ripples go has inspired us all to keep reaching for more. We are excited to announce the birth of a new nonprofit called Mirai no Mori (“forest of the future” in Japanese). Living Dreams remains a key supporter of the project. English Adventure, the company that operated the camps to date in cooperation with Living Dreams, will continue to provide major support for camp execution.
However, NPO Mirai no Mori will allow us to take this project to another level entirely. Mirai no Mori will focus solely on empowering youth living in children’s welfare homes, through life-changing outdoor experiences. The youth of the disaster affected areas of Tohoku remain at the center of the project, and of this GlobalGiving campaign. At the same time, Mirai no Mori will reach out to at-risk children in other parts of Japan, who face many of the same challenges. By applying the lessons and experiences of our camps for Tohoku children to society at large, we hope that something beautiful will be born out of tragedy. Please continue with us on this journey!
In our next report, we’ll share photos and stories to convey the fun and growth from this summer’s Tohoku camps! Until then, thank you so much for making this project happen, and changing these children’s lives in real and wonderful ways.
As a new school semester and fiscal year began in April, children's homes in Tohoku held a series of new-year meetings and parties. Additionally, junior high school children recently took entrance exams for high schools and although many homes have been struggling to study for these exams under their difficult circumstances, a few learning support programs are continuing to show encouraging progress. The following programs have transpired thanks to our tremendous GlobalGiving donor community. The first, a school studies support program that has been running now for 6 months, has received considerable praise from a home in Iwate prefecture. The second program was held at a home in Fukushima prefecture, offering the kids a chance to unwind with a special “Hanami” party along with a learning activity that tapped into their creative talents!
Learning Support --- Iwate Prefecture
This home is located in an area seriously affected by the tsunami. While all of the children and staff were safe, many of their family members, relatives and friends were sadly victims. Since the disaster, Living Dreams has provided this home with material support, camp programs, gifts during the Christmas season, and learning support programs.
As is the case in many children's homes, the decline in academic performance is a serious problem at the home. Many homes tackle this issue with the help of student volunteers from their local universities. This home used to have regular volunteers as well. Since 3/11, as the railway lines remain out of service, their local station is still closed, which made it difficult for them to secure consistent student volunteers. As a result, Living Dreams teamed up with a local cram school and arts program, providing kids with learning programs for those needing to improve basic academic skills, as well as a special calligraphy program for those children who face intellectual disabilities.
As a result, 75% of the children have improved their results, and all 5 junior high school children passed high school entrance tests this past March! Home staff members have also noticed that children are taking more notes in school, which means their focus levels in the classroom are improving! The children who attended calligraphy class were commended for their achievements in front of many people, which truly boosted their confidence. Instructors noticed how the children enjoyed each session, developing a sincere interest in this old tradition.
Easter/Hanami Party --- Fukushima Prefecture
In April, one of our Living Dreams team members organized a group of 35 people including both foreigners and locals, to help host an Easter/Hanami event at a home in Fukushima prefecture.
The morning started off with a two-hour art workshop where they taught the kids how to make and decorate Easter baskets. After the craft session, they had a Hanami lunch outside and played with the kids. During lunch, a group of volunteers hid 400 chocolate/plastic eggs around the home for a post-lunch scavenger hunt. The volunteers also shared a brief Easter PowerPoint presentation for the kids to explain the origins and significance of Easter and how it is celebrated in foreign countries. As this home continues to deal with the impact of the nuclear power plant catastrophe, being able to enjoy outdoor activities is still considered a luxury. Further, simply having volunteers who want to visit their home and share special programs is something the home is incredibly grateful to have for their children.
We thank all of our donors around the world who have truly helped make lives brighter in Tohoku!
This is the second consecutive year for several Tohoku children's homes to be able to participate in two special programs around the holiday period. The Christmas Wish Program and English Adventure Snow Camp took place during the months of December and early January--ending 2012 on a warm note and beginning 2013 with an exceptional experience out in the snow!
Christmas Wish 2012 offered several homes an opportunity to provide each child in the home with a 'wished for' gift, along with a special holiday party for home staff and kids. Being able to spend a little money on something 'lighthearted' is truly a luxury for most homes, but it is priceless for these children to feel a little extra love and attention over the holiday season. Not to mention the joy that a small toy, new piece of clothing, book or game can bring - helping kids feel like kids in challenging environment.
English Adventure Snow Camp 2013, held in two locations (Miyagi and Niigata campsites) proved once again to help develop children's perspective, self-confidence, and teamwork abilities. From snowshoe treks, skiing, igloo building to sledding and simple snow play- the kids learned to push through some of the more challenging/new activities by working together and receiving positive encouragement. All of the children's snowy experiences were sprinkled with English lessons throughout--giving the more experienced English speakers a chance to practice what they've learned in school, while nudging the more shy/inexperienced speakers a chance to learn some new phrases and boost their confidence. Even more, those campers who attended last year's Snow Camp were able to serve as "mentors" for the new participants--and their ability to dive more fully into each activity this time around was certainly apparent.
Both programs, although quite different, provide levels of care not regularly experienced by these children due to institutional-style home life; as hardworking and caring as many home staff members are, it's difficult to provide consistent 1:1 care for so many children. Feeling cared for during the holiday period is key for children, and getting out into nature for pure playing pleasure and new experiences helps children open up their minds to new possibilities and insights about themselves. Thanks to the continued support from the GlobalGiving community, Living Dreams has been able to extend these program opportunties to Tohoku children's homes. A special present to open or a snow trek on a bright sunny day with a positive mentor goes a long way in brightening a child's spirit.
We truly thank every single special donor for helping to make a difference!
And as the 2nd anniversary of 3/11 approaches, GlobalGiving is planning a special 100% matching campaign for the start of March. If you or anyone else is interested in supporting future programs like the Christmas Wish program and English Adventure Snow Camp, this campaign will help stretch your donor dollars much further. Stay tuned for more details and updates regarding the 3/11 donor-matching campaign.
Happy New Year, and thank you for your kindness!
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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
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