For an orphaned child in Japan, life can seem pretty bleak. The cultural importance placed on blood relationships here means the chances of getting a foster or adoptive family are remote. The child will most likely grow up in an underfunded and understaffed group home, where the high caregiver-to-child ratio means they probably won’t have an adult in their life to love, guide and motivate them, one on one.
And the future doesn’t look much better. The college enrollment rate for kids in homes is only around 8%, compared to the national average of around 50%. Many of them end up working low-paying jobs that don’t even cover rent—little wonder that they often suffer from low motivation and mental health issues.
One local organization is hoping to make a difference for some of these orphaned children by providing mentoring experiences with positive adult role models. Living Dreams, a registered NPO, works with 23 children’s homes in the Tokyo area, bringing individual and corporate volunteers to mentor kids in the so-called “LAST” areas—learning, arts, sports and technology.
Executive Director Amy Moyers explains the importance of reaching out. “When a child is exposed to an experience or activity that opens up their perspective and allows them to ‘let go’ and dream a little bit, it’s amazing how those experiences can permeate into many other areas of their life,” she says. “Most of these children have far more potential than many people realize.”
Moyers feels that the NPO’s activities promoting athletics and the arts, such as its yearly art camp, are just as important as its learning and technology components. “With many of these children who have been abused, you have to think of them as bruised on the inside and out,” she says. “They have PTSD symptoms, trust issues, confidence issues, and an overall sense of confusion about their predicament. So arts and sports can be a great source of release for kids to express emotions in a positive environment.”
Moyers, who has a background in marketing and publishing, brought her knack for establishing strategic partnerships to the NPO. Living Dreams has worked with major companies in Japan, such as Shinsei Bank, Barclays Capital and Kawaijuku, to help them achieve their corporate responsibility goals. Some provide funding or donate goods, while others encourage their employees to donate their time.
Individual volunteers are equally welcome, though. The organization is looking to provide as many different opportunities as possible, and believes that everyone has something to offer, whether it’s a knack for explaining programming or just a sympathetic ear.
According to Moyers, the hardest part of their work isn’t finding money or volunteers, but changing the thinking of staff working at the children’s homes. “The home staff tend to be very practical, given that kids living in homes have an uphill battle to carve out a better path for themselves,” she explains. “The challenge is to diplomatically shift the home thinking from ‘managing expectations down’ to ‘encouraging some dreams.’” After all, sometimes all you need is a little hope.
To find out more about Living Dreams or if you are interested in volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today