by Tokyo International Communication Committee
Newsletter 2014 (photo credit ACTION & Natsuki Yasuda)
HASAMI NO CHIKARA PROJECT (The SCISSORS EMPOWERMENT PROJECT)~
This month’s Close Up introduces ACTION, a specified non-profit organization (NPO). In aiming to realize a future
society in which all children can exercise their natural abilities, ACTION works to support children in both the Philippines and Japan. A major pillar of ACTION’s activities is its support of Filipino orphanages and street children. On this occasion, we spoke to Mr. Hajime Yokota, Representative Director of ACTION, about the background to how ACTION commenced its activities in the Philippines. We also discussed the HASAMI NO CHIKARA PROJECT; one of ACTION’s empowerment projects that look to support children so that they can take up the challenge of working towards the realization of their own dreams.
Q.Please tell us what first led you to become involved in supporting Filipino orphanages.
A. When I was in the third year of senior high school, I undertook my first trip to the Philippines in February of 1994. I was made aware that an orphanage had been damaged by an eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Armed with just an address, I managed to visit the orphanage by landing in Manila and subsequently using various modes of transport to get there. It wasn’t even the case that I felt I would be able to help. There was just a feeling within me that I wanted to see what was happening with my own eyes. The orphanage was kind enough to allow me to stay for about a month, and while I was there I helped them repair some damage. The carpenters working on damaged buildings taught me how to make blocks, and in that I was unable to understand the local language, everybody was worried about my welfare. Once I returned to Japan, I realized that “I had been unable to do anything,” and this made me feel that I wanted to repay the people of the Philippines who had shown such kindness by putting up with me.
Q.So such experiences on your part represent the roots of the activities that ACTION now undertakes.
A. I should point out that at the time the Internet had still not penetrated widely. Thus, it was difficult for individuals
to generate and publish their own information. However, through my own contacts, I had opportunities to convey my experiences to a wide range of people. Through coverage by NHK programs and newspaper articles, I obtained the support of the Musashino International Association. During the summer holidays of my first year of university, along with 16 others who were interested in what I had to say, I again visited the Philippines. We then started to help repair facilities that had been damaged by the volcano. That was the first time activities were undertaken by ACTION. After that, while I remained a university student, our activities were continued as those of a voluntary organization. Concurrent to my graduation from university, we established offices in both Japan and the Philippines.
Q.Why do you put so much effort into the support of institutionalized kids and street children?
A. We do this because these are children who are not blessed with opportunities to grow and develop their own abilities. The principle aim of the activities undertaken by ACTION is offering support so that children can leverage their natural abilities within society. Even for children born in poor households, if there are other family members, there are probably adults able to do something to ensure that the children receive some form of education. However, for street children and those who are institutionalized, such adults are absent, and it might well be the case that they face the possibility of going through life without opportunity to exercise their innate talents. For both the children themselves, and wider Filipino society, such an inability represents a great loss. At ACTION, in order to broaden the range of possibilities that are open to such children, currently we engage in a number of CHIKARA PROJECTS (empowerment projects) to equip them with a variety of skills. We want to create occasions by which children can receive a range of experiences via the HASAMI NO CHIKARA PROJECT (the SCISSORS EMPOWERMENT PROJECT), the DANCE NO CHIKARA PROJECT (the DANCE EMPOWERMENT PROJECT) and the KARATE NO CHIKARA PROJECT (the KARATE EMPOWERMENT PROJECT), etc. In undertaking such activities as well, it is my hope to employ the best techniques that Japan has to offer.
Q.Tell us about the HASAMI NO CHIKARA PROJECT?
A. The HASAMI NO CHIKARA PROJECT evolved from an idea. We wanted to send groups of Japanese hairdressers to the Philippines, and have them tour the country while offering free haircuts to children. In the Philippines, many children don’t live in circumstances that allow them to wear their hair in styles that they like. However, among institutionalized children, in that there are young girls with nail manicures involving the use of document-correction fluid that has been colored using magic marker pens, and young boys who use paste in place of hair wax, you soon realize that these kids “want to be as fashionable” as the rest of us. Thus, every time when I returned to Japan in the past, on meeting hairdressers I asked, “would you be interested in visiting the Philippines in order to cut children’s hair? ”
A young girl who was initially apprehensive about getting her hair cut. She became more accustomed to it and finally smiled.
Q.I was told it took 10 years to realize this idea?
A. We were first able to conduct a HASAMI NO CHIKARA PROJECT tour in 2011. It involved Mr. Yoshinori Kitahara, an owner of a hairdressing salon I know, as well as four of his acquaintances. That first tour involved just offering haircuts. However, on the second tour, the hairdressers were accompanied by makeup artists, stylists and a cameraman. All these people pitched in to help some girls from poor backgrounds celebrate their coming of age. In that Mr. Kitahara is well known in the hairdressing business here in Japan, our activities grew via word-of-mouth. For busy Japanese hairdressers, the opportunity to cut the hair of children in the Philippines offers the simple satisfaction of using their skills “to make others happy.”
Q.I have also heard that you now conduct training sessions for children who would like to pursue a career as hairdressers?
A. Against the backcloth of the HASAMI NO CHIKARA PROJECT tours that are now held annually, rather than just offering haircuts, there was a discussion about developing hair-cutting skills among the children. Concerning institutionalized children, if they could develop such skills, it would put them on the road to independence. Thus, in March of last year, we started the HASAMI NO CHIKARA Academy with the aim of teaching hairdressing skills over a three-year period. Currently, there are some 14 children from 13 facilities who are undergoing training. In the future, as both somewhere that the children can work, and also as somewhere that young Japanese hairdressers can enjoy a range of different experiences, we would like to develop a HASAMI NO CHIKARA hair salon in the Philippines.
Q.Tell me about your plans for the future development of these CHIKARA PROJECTS.
A. As part of our CHIKARA PROJECTS, in November of this year we will be publishing a job introduction book for children in both English and Tagalog. We want to inform children that a wide range of different jobs are available to them in the Philippines. Through cooperation that has been received from a Philippines newspaper company, it is planned that the book will discuss some 117 different occupations. It will feature interviews with people who actually do such jobs, and these people will discuss why they selected their profession, their motivations for working, and what is necessary for the children to pursue the same careers. Furthermore, so that children don’t simply give up on their dreams due to their current economic circumstances, at the end of the book there will be a section giving information on scholarships available throughout the Philippines. Moreover, we have also given thought to starting a CHIKARA PROJECTS scholarship program. For example, if we encounter children who aim to become doctors, we will try and match them up with Japanese and Filipino doctors, or medical groups who are willing to offer scholarships. It is our desire to expand the sense of support whereby people who are already working in such professions are of the mindset to support the generation of children who will succeed them. This will allow the children in question to achieve their dreams.
Q.Please convey a message to those of our readers who are interested in volunteering.
Mr. Yokota, “The establishment of ACTION was also another way for me to offer something in return for the kindness that was shown to me by the Filipino people.”
A. In the contemporary world, “volunteer” is an overused term. Rather, I want to see more people act in a manner that is best described using traditional terms such as “displaying kindness to one another,” “returning a favor” or “simply sharing.” All these terms encapsulate the idea of giving something in return for what we are fortunate enough to receive. In terms of doing something, I feel that people who experience a sense of privilege and gratefulness with respect to their own circumstances are more likely to be active long-term. Concerning the workshops that we conduct locally in the Philippines, we would like people to participate in a relaxed fashion. Perhaps some readers ponder if “they could do something of benefit or not for the children.” However, I would ask people to think about their own childhoods. What about when they were at school themselves, was the appearance of overseas guests in itself something they enjoyed as school children? For institutionalized children, on an everyday basis just having some form of new stimulus is a positive experience. Thus, I would like your readers to realize that just going somewhere to see what is happening has some meaning in itself.