Are you ready to start volunteering? First, let’s make sure you have the basics covered.
First, let’s talk about communication. Now that you are ready to get going, you need one way for all of your volunteers and other participants to get a hold of you. Now you may want to start working on some smoke signals or start training carrier pigeons, but we recommend setting up an email address. Set up an email address exclusively for your volunteer group, for example: email@example.com . If your volunteer group is associated with a social organisation, consider using that organisation’s name in it, for example: firstname.lastname@example.org. No matter what name you use, make sure to set up an email account first, because communication is the key.
Now let’s talk about the second basic component: commitment. Are you really ready to delve into this long-term project? Are you prepared? Remember, you don’t want to start and stop lots of projects, because it is not good for the kids. If you commit, really commit. If the language barrier is making you hesitant to commit, make sure to think ahead about how you will communicate with both the orphanage you are volunteering at and the children. We will provide you with cheat sheets, but also think about recruiting some Japanese volunteers to help.
Now that you have decided you are interested in starting orphanage visits in your community, the next step is to find an orphanage to visit. There are several ways to do this. The easiest, though not the most thorough way, is to search on Google maps. Simply search “児童施設“ or ”じどう しせつ”.
If you are not successful using Google maps, your prefectural government website will often have details of facilities, but usually only in Japanese. A friend, colleague, JTE, or a CIR should be able to help you if your Japanese isn’t up to par. Type your prefecture name and “prefecture website” into any search engine. Once you find your prefecture’s governmental website, search for “児童施設“ or ”じどう しせつ“ in the site’s search bar.
Also, be aware that there are many different kinds of child care facilities. In Fukui, we visit “児童養護施設“. Having a Japanese speaker help in your search for organisations to visit might be helpful, because they will be able to recognize child care facilities in your community. Just remember that often the most successful way to find out answers is to ask around. Good luck in your search!
Recruit volunteers in your area.
Now, about finding those loyal followers to join the brigade… If you are a member of a JET group or other social organisation, try e-mailing members in your prefecture. Even if people hear about your orphanage visits through the grapevine, try to promote it at any meeting or conference in your community. If there is a platform to speak and promote from, promote away!
Have an easy bilingual advertisement to field potential volunteers. Local International Associations often have bulletin boards to post flyers. See the following “Multilingual Cheat Sheet” for more promotion assistance. The more dedicated people you can reach, the more likely you are to have a strong, dependable group of volunteers. Just remember, don’t forget to include your email address on all materials!
I highly encourage you to have a large pool of volunteers before contacting the home. The last thing you want to do is get their kids hopes up prematurely.
Set up the first meeting
Well, after all that work, you finally have a group of people and a home to visit. But, now, what do you do? You have an email account made, a Google map of the orphanage printed, and volunteers gathered, but still you have to make the idea a reality. So now what? How do you do it?
There are two main ways
First, you can ask some jyouzu nihongoer to call and explain what you want to do briefly, and request a meeting with the head of the institution (often called Enchou san) to discuss details. A CIR or Japanese friend may be able to help you here. If people seem hesitant, be sure to mention that you aren’t some random person off the street, but a group of like-minded individuals and teachers in the community who would love to help.
If the first option fails, there is another way that can be very useful. Find the school closest to the orphanage you want to visit (we do love our Google maps), and ask the ALT to speak to his supervisor to inquire if any kids from the orphanage attend the school. Explain what you would like to do, and ask the teacher to call on your behalf. Naturally, an introduction from someone the home is likely to know, whose position in society is fairly high, will help your cause no end. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to name- or position-drop.
Hopefully you can get this first visit set up without undue hair-pulling or gray-hairs. At the first meeting with the orphanage, there is a lot to cover. Be sure to discuss:
- The frequency of visits (a general goal is better)
- The approximate number of children participating
- Where you will interact with the children – i.e. what kinds of playroom have they got – what size is it? (This will help your planning later).
- Average number of volunteers per visit
- The schedule of the visit – i.e. 2 hours, 50 min, 20 min break, 50 min.
- Who your primary contact at the institution will be
- Kids with particular issues you should know about. (Be aware that this might be sensitive, so don’t push too much, but any hints here could help you later.)
You can use our “Japanese Cheat Sheet” to help explain your overall goals. Try to bring extra copies for the employees at the orphanage you visit.