From July 7th to the 17th, ICP Executive Director Susan Stroud and Program Officer Phil Hayes visited the cities of Sendai, Tokyo, and Okinawa in Japan to hold a series of workshops with ICP university partners and affiliated Japanese Universities. Over this ten day period ICP worked closely with faculty and students from Tohoku University, Okinawa International University, and Tokyo University to create engaging workshops. Part of ICP’s TOMODACHI initiative program, these workshops were aimed at educating Japanese universities on the importance of civic engagement and outlining the prominent role that universities have in promoting civic engagement.
There has never been a greater time to assist Japanese Universities to transition from primarily volunteer recruitment to long term civic engagement activities than now. Still reeling from the great amount of damage from the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011, Japanese universities have become a key resource in supporting youth volunteerism and service within the region that has proven invaluable to the recovery process. During the opening of these workshops, our staff was able to view this long road to recovery firsthand in Sendai as they visited a school that had undergone significant destruction from the tsunami and had displaced many of its students. Demonstrating how vital youth volunteerism and service will be during the recovery period, this school served as a symbol of just how important these workshops were to assist these universities through a series of exchanges and technical assistance to support their own efforts of civic engagement.
In the first workshop held at Tohoku University, which is located in the region most heavily devastated by the natural disasters, the discussion focused primarily on the role that universities have in continuing to rebuild the region. This workshop, titled “The Role of University and Students in the Community,” highlighted the impressive response of the university to these disasters, the continued work that faculty and students have been involved in to aid the recovery process, and discussed how to maintain student motivation after the disaster or in the absence of a crisis. The keynote remarks from this workshop were made by the Consulate-General Sapporo and Ted Diehl and TOMODACHI Executive Director Laura Abbot. This workshop was attended by over fifty participants including students, faculty from various universities in the Tohoku region, university administrators, non-profit organization (NPO) representatives, and TOMODACHI alumni. One professor noted “These [types] of experiences allow us to envision academic activities which can revitalize Japanese societies.” This revitalization comes in the form of connecting student volunteering to academics and shifting the culture towards a civically engaged mindset.
In Okinawa, fifty participants, half of which were student volunteers, explored the topic of “University Social Responsibility in Action – Student Initiative and Civic Engagement.” The session opened with the US Consul General Naha Alfred Magleby and later featured presentations by students from Okinawa International University and other Okinawan universities who shared programs that they initiated at their respective campuses in order to address issues such as unemployment on remote islands, homelessness, LGBT discrimination, and the US military presence. Inspired by her peers, one young student spoke of her motivation to become more involved in her community and address problems affecting Okinawan communities saying, “My heart is burning. I really want to do something!” At the conclusion of this workshop Okinawa International University faculty pledged to better encourage and assist their students and their initiatives by aiding them in their collection of resources and support.
These series of workshops concluded at the University of Tokyo with “University Civic Engagement and Social Innovation”, which was attended by forty participants from various sectors and students. One participant Yu Ogawa noted that, “It’s not that [the students] can’t do it, it’s that they don’t know it. Students need to directly experience societal issues.” These workshops provided the necessary resources and knowledge to encourage students to step out in their communities and contribute in a meaningful way. ICP hopes that this workshop will trigger a shift in Japanese higher education that is aimed at maintaining this motivation of civic engagement towards not only recovering from the natural disasters, but also to address other long-term societal challenges within the country.
ICP would like to recognize our Japanese university partners at Tohoku University, Okinawa International University, and University of Tokyo for their role in facilitating these workshops.
To view a slideshow of the Tomodachi workshops, please click here.