We have given you a lot of information about how to set things up and why you should take on this project. However, visiting an orphanage is so much more than an act of charity – it’s also a lot of fun! From Sports Days to barbecues, every visit is different. All our volunteers have had a great time, interacting with children who are friendly and incredibly genki! Following are the real life stories of some ALT volunteers – I hope that reading them will show you just how rewarding and fun a project like this can be.
Don’t forget – if you set up a visit in your area, we’d love to hear your story! Go to the ‘Contact us’ page and drop us an email.
Volunteer Story – Rebecca Carrington – Kumamoto City
About two years ago an ALT named Will DeLuna was looking for volunteers to help at an orphanage in Kumamoto City.
He had been volunteering himself for two years but as he was starting his own business and planning to move away from the area, he needed people to take over. I volunteered and the fun began there.
Originally it was a small class of 5 students and we would meet every Wednesdsay from 7-8pm. The goal was to teach them English and teach them about our culture. Last October we decided to have a Halloween party and thought it would be a good idea to invite other children from the orphanage. Around 30 people showed up and we a lot of fun playing games, eating candy and watching Halloween movies!
Because so many children seemed to enjoy the party we decided to see if they were interested in coming our Wednesday night meetings. Now we have a very mixed bunch; boys and girls from 4th grade elementary to 2nd grade junior high. Because of the difference in ability (and attention span) we now have a mix of English and craft/design classes. They don’t seem to mind working hard one week as long as they get a reward the next. Some of our best classes have included English twister, lei making, painting and blowing eggs and making graduation hats. There is no end to the possibilities and if you tell your school/BOE what you are doing they might even be willing to help you with the cost of supplies!
Volunteering at an orphanage can be extremely hard work but also very rewarding. Some of the children I met two years ago wouldn’t even speak in Japanese and now they are comfortable speaking basic English. The workers at the orphanage let us do what we want and if we need help they are willing to lend a hand. We are also lucky as we have some English students from the local high school who are willing to help out too.
For anyone thinking of setting up this kind of project I would say do it! There is nothing to lose and everything to gain and it shows our BOE, the local community and teachers and students that ALT’s are willing to do more.
Good Luck and if you have any questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
From Alice – Fukui
I must admit, I was a little nervous before my first visit. From my experience of work at a senior high school, I was expecting to find very quiet, reserved children – it could all be a bit awkward really. And yet, as soon as we set foot in the driveway, I heard so many excited voices calling out for their favourite ALTs, and lots of children hanging out the windows, waving frantically. I couldn’t believe how friendly and fun all the children were! Far from being shy, the openness and confidence of some of the children was fantastic. Here, I must give credit to Mike Maher-King and all the ALTs who have been with the orphanage scheme from the beginning – the excitement of the children was obvious testament to the hard work put into the previous visits to make them fun, hilarious and to create an environment where the children felt free to open up and enjoy themselves.
Some of my favourite moments:
- Being used as a piece of furniture / human shield / climbing frame
- Having one girl being kind enough to pretend to believe that I was Ariel from the Little Mermaid.
- Seeing the look of joy on a child’s face when I lose to them at a game of janken, which means I have to slide along the floor on my stomach, pretending to be a stocking, while they progress to the next level.
From David Kamper – Fukui
During the first few months of my time in Japan, I felt quite isolated. The quiet of the country area I was placed in was splendid, but the lack of human contact was not. It was Summer, and, although I spent a great deal of time at school, there weren’t many opportunities to chat with any of my soon-to-be co-workers. I hadn’t yet leased a car, and I didn’t really know who else was working and living in my area.
Finally, the school term started, and I was overwhelmed by how little I knew, and how much I needed to learn. I wondered, a bit desperately, what I was going to do for the next 12 months.
Then, I experienced my first Elementary School visit, and it was a revelation. I recognized immediately the incredibly positive effect the children were having on me, and I wanted more of it. When I heard about the orphanage visits, I was intrigued. I had long wanted to be involved with a charitable cause, and, while I had worked for an NPO back home, this seemed like a much more hands-on, and personally rewarding venture. I had no idea what I was getting into. By the time I had finished my first visit, I was wondering if there were other orphanages looking to have similar volunteer visits.
A lot of that speaks to remarkable job Mike has done in establishing a solid relationship with the staff and the children. They know him, and trust him, and that creates a rewarding experience for everyone involved. Now that I have started visits at an orphanage near my home, I can’t imagine what I could be doing that would give me the same sense of satisfaction and well-being.
My first year as an ALT has been full of victories and defeats of varying sizes, but the orphanage visits have consistently given me a reason to look forward to spending another day in Japan.
I’m proud of what the volunteers are doing, and I want to see it continue to expand, and touch the lives of more people.
If you haven’t yet attended an orphanage visit, I hope that you will soon. It won’t be your last.”
From Lucia Brea – Fukui
My mother used to always joke around and tell me she adopted me at a young age from an orphanage. Since then my interest in visiting one had always been there. I got the opportunity to volunteer when a partnership with visiting the orphanage in Tsuruga (southern Fukui) was established. I didn’t know what to expect, but as soon as you park your car there are smiling faces waiting for you. They bombard you with questions and ask you to play with them. There is a wide range of kids in these orphanages and some are even part of our schools, from different walks of life and experiences. It seems as if we make a difference in their day and make it better. Just by simply playing with them, talking to them and even by cultural exchange.Their smile speaks millions, and in the end of the visit I can’t help but get excited for the next visit, especially since I know they are looking forward to the next visit.
From Lauren Stockhausen
I thought it would be easy to write about my experiences volunteering for the Fukui Orphanage, but it’s hard to know where to start. When Mike answered our Kencho ALT’s request for FJET to organize some volunteer activities for the JETs in Fukui Prefecture, Mike stepped up and put together a (seemingly over ambitious) volunteer program to visit children at the local orphanage. I was slightly apprehensive at first, not wanting to get too involved since I wasn’t sure what to expect.
When we first arrived for our first visit, the children seemed just as apprehensive as I was. After an hour of playing small group games and playing, the walls slowly dissipated and laughter was the distinguishing sound for the rest of the visit. The volunteers left the visit wanting to do and help more. With that Mike’s volunteer program didn’t seem so overly ambitious anymore. In fact, it was an absolute success. Volunteering at the Orphanage became an amazing way to give back to a community that has become my home in every sense of the word.
Since that first visit over a year ago, this program has become one of the most meaningful experiences I have had in Japan. Watching the children grow and develop strong friendships with the volunteers is more moving than anything I have ever witnessed. I do believe that the children at the Fukui City Orphanage will remember the crazy foreigners they crawled on like jungle gyms or games they never wanted to end. However, what the children don’t realize is how much they have given back to us. They have given us more memories and love than we could have ever imagined. That is why volunteering regularly is one of the most important and meaningful experiences anyone will have.
From Melissa Avis – Fukui
I love our visits to the orphanage. They combine everything that is good about the JET Programme – working with kids, having fun, internationalizing – and use them to such great purpose with very little stress. Honestly, the kids just want to hang out and play, and since this isn’t school, we are free to do just that. Anything that interests us is a possible activity – from playing a simple game of catch, to coloring together, to sharing a piece of candy, to chasing each other around the room. There’s no pressure to make more of it than what it is – us and the kids having a good time together.
Each visit is a reward in itself, but it has been amazing to watch the change in the children over the past year. On our first visit, the kids were very shy and some refused to come anywhere near a stranger or even speak in our presence. Those same kids now run to greet us as soon as we pull up, they smile and hold our hands, they clamber over us and dart around us squealing with glee. In short, visiting these kids is one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done and it makes my heart happy. I encourage anyone who is wondering how they can get involved in their community in a meaningful way to participate in or initiate such a wonderful project themselves.
Read about the Inamien Children’s Home in Kaga visit here!
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