“Our children are our future and one of our most basic responsibilities is to care for them in the best and most compassionate manner possible.” -- Nelson Mandela, November 7, 2003
From August 12 to August 20, 2019, children from children’s homes (orphanages) in Japan participated in the Designing Artists Academy (DAA) summer camp, organized by non-profit YouMeWe. I had the privilege to work with the children as a Mentor this summer. Mentors initiated icebreakers, played dodgeball, and supervised children during workshops. Over the week, however, our roles became increasingly fluid and personal as we formed closer bonds with the children. The staff, including volunteers and Mentors, encouraged them to make the most of their opportunities. DAA provided children an avenue to learn about themselves through art, interactions with others, and self-reflection.
The camp began with art activities. On day one, children created a mural based on the theme, “We HeART Tokyo”. On other days, children joined their assigned groups and participated in activities such as music composition, cupcake decoration, photography, jewelry making, and painting. Although the artists gave them instructions and suggestions-- the children quickly learned advanced techniques-- they also respected children’s curiosity and imagination. The activities gave children confidence.
The camp encouraged children to express themselves. They learned to interact with others by immersing in a new environment for the week with children from other homes. Lunch breaks gave children and volunteers the opportunity to get to know one another, building trust along the way. Throughout the week, many of them became more articulate and proactive, showing volunteers their artwork, asking questions, and performing before an audience at the exhibition on the final day of the camp.
Self-reflection was another key part of the program. In the camp packets, children each had notebooks to reflect on each day of camp. This reflection gave encouraged children to process their experiences and record their achievements. In addition, meditation sessions taught them to get in touch with their emotions, de-stress, and focus.
DAA was fantastic this year due to the children, the art workshops, the interactions with others, and the self-reflections. The camp encouraged children’s growth through art. However, it also emphasized communication, which the children quickly learned. Self-reflection was also important in the program. It was an immense honor to have been part of the children’s journey, however briefly. The children are nothing short of incredible; they are our future.
Bio: Marina is a senior at the School of International Liberal Studies (SILS), Waseda University. She was a DAA mentor from 2011to 2013 and returned as a mentor in 2019.