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.