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Volunteerism Makes The World Go Around

“There is nothing better than the feeling of strangers getting together solely
to better the world,” Ms. Noriko Hino (middle in the black T-shirt), the founder of NY de Volunteer.

Volunteerism, a system in which strangers help other strangers in need without any kind of reward, derived from the special innate ability and desire for human beings to care for another, may exist all over the globe, and though the idea may be popular, its powers often go well underestimated. As the world witnessed the recent tragedy in Japan unfold, it became a powerful reminder to us all that without it, the world simply cannot function. Yet, disaster areas are not the only places volunteerism is needed. Often, situations that need help are not advertised, existing quietly under the radar. Just as unnoticed, however, are the local volunteer non-profit organizations that seek out individuals and situations to give help.
One such group that exists here in NY is called NY de Volunteer, and they are helping our community in various ways. Since the organization runs one of the afterschool programs in the city, I decided to visit the program which was taking place in a recreation center in Brooklyn to see this marvelous group in action. The afterschool program, commissioned by the city, is just one small portion of the organization’s work, but a very important one that aims to create a cultural bridge between the youth of America and the Japanese culture.

Students learn simple Japanese words. The theme of the day is weather.

The program is targeted for Inner City Public School Students between the ages of 6 to 13, and the organization tours institutions like a traveling circus making an appearance once a week to each institution. The content of the program is decided by the instructors and changes every time to keep the children engaged.  The day I visited, the children were getting introduced to Japanese kimono as well as Japanese tea ceremony. Volunteers come from all walks of life, and this day there were about 12. Among them, a Japanese-American man who had learned to speak fluent Japanese during his involvement with the organization for the last 3 years, and an American teacher who had been living in Japan for 8 years. This allowed the children to learn about the Japanese culture from various angles.
The volunteers greeted the children dressed in kimono as the children entered the classroom excitedly. Then the children themselves were given a chance to put on the garment. They then got into a circle and introduced themselves in Japanese, which they did very well only after a few visits by the volunteers. Then four important concepts of Japanese tea ceremony: harmony, respect, cleanliness, and calmness were introduced. The children were told to be perfectly quiet as they entered the tea ceremony room, and though they were a rambunctious bunch, they paid attention very well, and seeing each of them on their knees and turning the cup, drinking tea with such politeness and good posture was the most adorable sight. Considering how bitter maccha is, it was surprising how most seemed to love the tea, except for a few that did pull some faces or rub their tongues with tissue. But the part they most enjoyed was no doubt, the Japanese sweets that came with the tea.

Students experience traditional tea ceremony.

Catching up with some of the children at the end of the day, one boy said he thought the day was “a nice experience, and the sweet treat was delicious”, while a girl told me “the tea was awful, but the tea ceremony was quiet and nice”. I could tell that not only the program itself, but each of the volunteers gave to these children and the children to the volunteers, something they would remember for years to come, which we hope cultivates a path towards a deeper cultural understanding and respect towards one another for our future generations.

—— Reported by Maya Robinson

NY de Volunteer
NY de Volunteer is the local 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2002. Its programs include The Japanese Spa Day for senior citizens, Japanese Floating Lantern for 911, Japanese Conversation Partner, US-Japan friendship Clean Up New York NPO Study Tours, and Volunteer Program for Japanese Visitors and lecture about NPO management and volunteer management

601 W. 110th St. #10K5, New York, NY 10025