Social and Pastoral Bulletin_No. 84 Jun. 15, 1998
| (Since I do not have with me all the materials of the workshop, I limited
myself to a personal account of the most important points raised in the
group discussions in which I also participated).
Importance of the Volunteer Workshop
Leaving aside theoretical discussions on the etymology of the word volunteerand the different rich meanings the word has, today`s education places great hopes in voluntary exposure-study-tours. As a result of a decreasing number of children and of the low age of those studying to pass their examinations, we teachers, continue facing situations where the students have seldom faced complicated social experiences and rough personal contacts with people. We hear reports that students, in general, can not usually feel the future advantages of all they are learning in the classroom. Children who can agree with the thought to prepare their own future by just focusing on studying for the examination are somehow blessed, but the problem is with those who are not satisfied with that. This is where the exposure-study-tours can become a golden opportunity to test personalities.
|The confrontation with reality, something impossible to taste in the classroom,
is very attractive because it trains the people. An important factor in
such study-tours is that, very often, students deal with human beings
. To this, one more condition which could be called sincerity
is added. In other words, once the action has been performed there is a
need to make an objective evaluation, not only a subjective one.
Study-tours are full of difficulties, but now I prefer to talk about the various trials we must face when we make commitments. There was a felt need for somebody providing an opportunity to discuss freely the real problems involved in the implementation of volunteer programs. This was my personal reason to attend the workshop in Shimonoseki, at the beginning of May. In this way, I was also helped to prepare my own network.
In fact, what I got from the workshop was to put myself to work in a common endeavor with other companions towards one goal. The goal was called preparation of a hand book , but what really mattered to us participants, was not the goal itself, but the process to reach the goal.
|Theoretical Backbone of the Volunteer Hand Book (Group 1)
This program began with a keynote talk given by Fr. Bonet. To be a volunteer implies one`s desire to act willingly . On one hand, one can look at volunteer activities from the side of present social realities: how to confront social injustice? leading lives without caring about such reality, or taking an attitude of commitment to do something as a member of that same society.
Such an approach provided a viewpoint for discussing whether to be a volunteer is an obligation or just a matter of free choice. There is an obligation to answer the call, but the concrete ways to act are left to the free will of the individuals. We all are working in the educational field and we belong to different social communities, and as for myself, I would like to look for techniques to provide various answers.
After the keynote talk, we divided for discussion into small groups. Here I present some main points we raised in our discussion , with regard to principles for action .
|1- The first attitude is to know the social realities by learning from the
sites where things are happening. Nevertheless, it is important to consider
in detail that reality is filled with a mixture of just and unjust elements.
In other words, there are demands for a prudent discernment and conversion
of heart at different stages. A half-way knowledge rather nurtures preconceived
bad perceptions, with the result of creating new discriminations. It is
good not to forget the fact that often responsibility accompanies knowledge
2- Metanoia, or a change of heart, means to open our hearts. It demands a free attitude to open one`s heart to the other person and to the situation. But at the same time, a different dimension implied as a requisite for conversion, is the need to take a humble attitude towards God (Luke18:13). Such an attitude is very important, not only to plan after problems have arisen, but also before one has come to realize their existence. The move from person for others to person with others , as well as to learn from what we become aware of , and to give things which are important to us, not those we do not need any more are also important viewpoints.
|3- One should never forget the importance of how much one could answer the
needs of the other. It is not enough to be in high spirits. In this respect,
a social analysis accompanying the experience one had is essential, not
only to evaluate the action taken, but also as an important element for
4- Important points of volunteer services are that they are activities transcending systematic frames and established administrative programs. And when it comes to deciding on the main backbone of volunteer activities, one must be careful not to insert new restrictive frames.
5- Volunteer services should not be based on vertical relationships, but on a partnership basis. In that context, the biblical expression of service can be implemented, and we can break away from a superficial attitude of just pure exchanges.
A Simulation of Volunteer Activities (Group 2)
At one moment, during the Workshop, we divided into 4 different groups simulating various activities, like: Volunteer involvement in an Asian country , Kamagasaki , Assistance to Foreigners in Japan , Building up a Cooperation System in the School . Since a report is now in preparation to summarize the concrete planning steps to implement such activities, I prefer to deal with the discussions of the group focusing on the help given to children of former refugees living in Japan to proceed with their studies.
|I was a member of that group, and although the activities discussed are
limited, nevertheless I selected those matters which provide hints for
other general volunteer activities. Since a report is now in preparation
to summarize the concrete planning steps to implement such activities,
I prefer to deal with the discussions of the group focusing on the help
given to children of former refugees living in Japan to proceed with their
studies. I was a member of that group, and although the activities discussed
are limited, nevertheless I selected those matters which provide hints
for other general volunteer activities.
1- There is a need, first of all, to make clear, from the beginning, the period of time that can be devoted to the services. The things that can be and can not be done should also be clearly decided. Once the decision is made to do a service, volunteer activities should continue with responsibility. Consequently, contacting people, handing over information, taking notes, etc., are natural necessary elements in the process.
2- Running parallel to this, there is a need to cooperate with other groups doing similar activities. It is not enough to hold regular meetings for volunteers themselves. The collaboration with other groups which are also providing assistance nurtures technical methods and systems of specialization much appreciated by people involved in a very wide field of social issues. With such a multivalent vision, people can solidly grasp the situation of the country and the real meaning behind current affairs.
|3- In the case of activities with foreigners who can not understand Japanese
well, there is a trend not to be able to establish relationships of trust
with the administration and the legal field. Within such a context, in
case the volunteers make use of the freedom they enjoy, they can become
a link between both by fulfilling the role of a go-between.
4- Within a relationship of partnership, it is important not to impose one`s customs and value systems as people giving assistance. When people assist others who have spent their lives in different environments, the need for assimilation might arise as a means to live in harmony, but it is especially important not to forget a basic attitude of volunteer services, namely, the respect of the life customs and culture of the counterpart, and the possession of an open heart ready to accept them. The concrete emphasis on accepting smells, tastes, food ingredients were important indications given.
The past workshop had somehow an inclination to theoretical matters, but, in fact, I think it had great meaning. Volunteer involvement and activities frequently stress action more than theory, and tend to be dominated by existing issues. Situations never allow latitude, because they need all possible attention, but I also want to emphasize that reflecting on the realities, by taking the time to go back to principles is very important.
Limiting myself to the participants of the Jesuit Volunteers Workshop I think that, based on the experiences of field studies, everybody desires to advance towards social analysis. Such an analysis will invite us to plan further action. All our activities must face integrity which brings peace, justice giving lasting security (Isaiah 32:17). The so called volunteer activities, as Vatican II Decree on Lay Persons (n.8) states, should not provide services under the cover of charitable work, in cases when such services are demanded from the stand of justice. Led by justice we must continually demand love .
Religious education does not only mean talks given in the classroom about religion and the Bible. At the same time, I would like religious education , using various methods of analyzing society, to grope for ways to be more human and to live more humanly. In order to achieve this, education must handle human rights and use a multivalent approach which deals with problematic collisions arising from tense human relations, similar to the educational volunteer experiences we dealt with during the workshop.
It seems to me that the aim is to work together (adults and children) as partners to build up such a society and human relationships where everybody is highly respected, and to proceed ahead reflecting on the matter.
Finally, besides the matters already mentioned above, one can not forget the fact that the characteristics of the city of Shimonoseki were well covered by the workshop. One of the sections of the program was an exchange event with Shimonoseki citizens held in the evening of the second day. It was not possible for me to write fully all and every single detail of our meeting, but if I am allowed to express it in a sensitive way, I had a strong feeling that the sea of coastal Shimonoseki is not to be considered a barrier, but on the contrary it becomes a link with all of us. The pleasant spring winds passing through the Kanmon Straights brought me abundant energy.
It was, in many ways, a workshop that showed very meaningful issues. I want to continue working together along the same process.
My gratitude to Fr. Hayashi of Shimonoseki, and to all the staff and participants.