Kawachi Chiyo (Tokyo, Jesuit Social Center)

The last volunteer seminar held August 23-25 was a common endeavor of members of the social and education apostolate that has continued during the last three years. The theme this year was the live-in seminars for students organized in Kamagasaki (Osaka). The participants, teachers involved in such seminars, shared programs and experiences with a view to their follow up, in order to foster volunteer activities of the students and the live-in seminars in Kamagasaki. About half of the 23 participants were teachers from the 4 Jesuit schools. Other Non-Jesuit Schools, like Xavier High School, Shonan Shirayuri middle-high school, Aizu Wakamatsu Xavier middle-high school, Ake no Hoshi girl high school sent also teacher participants. Among the teachers there were also graduates from Eiko and Sophia University. The rest were educators from Sophia University and the Social-Welfare School of Sophia University, priests and lay staff of the Jesuit social apostolate. We were also happy to have as a full participant member the Jesuit Provincial, Fr. Matsumoto. Participants were less than other years, but people felt that the numbers were quite suitable for the seminar.

First of all, we all gathered together at Kamagasaki's "Tabiji no Sato", a Jesuit social and pastoral center. They had just repaired the walls and replaced the tatami in the rooms; there was also an air conditioner in the office for the first time.

Tabiji no Sato was somehow unrecognizable. There we divided ourselves into small groups, and proceeded to different sites where 4 experienced persons working in Kamagasaki were waiting to meet with us. One of them was Mr. Watanabe Munemasa who provides free lodging and meals to the homeless and assists them to find a dwelling place. He runs the "Deai no Ie" (Meeting House). The second person was Rev. Otani Takao, Protestant minister of Japan Christian Conference, who represents Kamagasaki's medical liaison conference and conducts activities for medical care and social assistance in Kamagasaki. The third person was Franciscan Fr. Honda Tetsuro, representative of NPO Kamagasaki, an assistance organization with programs related to Kamagasaki workers and the creation of jobs for the homeless. The fourth person was Mr. Mizuno Ashura, who, while working as a daily worker, has been 30 years in Kamagasaki and is, at present, an advisor to the NPO Kamagasaki and general manager of "Asian Friends", a group assisting foreigners living in Japan. We formed groups of 6 persons each and had the luxury of meeting with the four persons mentioned above. After the briefing and a long conversation, options for a mini guided tour of the town were provided to the new comers to Kamagasaki. The homeless were silently lining under the sticky heat waiting for the distribution of meals and for entering the shelters. Their faces are, even now, printed as real in my eyes. My wish is that they could be able to find a job.
Late in the evening we all moved to Takarazuka's Mefu retreat house and started our exchange program introducing each other.

It had been a hot day, and most of us had to travel a long way to Kamagasaki. We were tired and dehydrated but we could pleasantly find how to restore our energy with some drinks (!). After our common short experience our conversation proceeded on within a frank atmosphere.
The morning of the next day, we formed 4 groups to discuss freely the document "sharing the programs each school performs in Kamagasaki" that the social center had distributed before. If I am allowed to hope for more, in case the proportion of participant teachers with some experience in the Kamagasaki seminars were higher, the content of the sharing could have been more concrete. In the afternoon, Miss Takasaki Keiko, staff of "Tabiji no Sato", the institution receiving the young volunteers that organizes the live-in seminars in Kamagasaki, addressed all participants. She explained in her talk the attitudes of the students and the happenings concerning the dealings between the old folks homeless people and the children. After that, Miss Irisa Akemi, a caseworker with 20 years experience in Kamagasaki, spoke to us in an easy to understand language. She had a high respect for Dr. Iwamura Noboru and while she was waiting for the day to go to Nepal to assist Dr. Iwamura, she worked for a few years as nurse of a psychiatric department. She made an account of her personal history since the time she came to Kamagasaki and met there the workers every day, the psychological breakdowns she suffered. Her talk was quite impressive. By meeting her, many people got encouraged and we were made to make a basic reflection on our life styles as Christians. For more details I invite everyone to read her book "Jikatabi no Uta --aruku seikatsu sodanshitsu 18nen--"
On the last day, Mr. Mochizuki of Eiko School made a presentation of some important points to help students to reflect on their experiences. That became the pattern for the following group discussions. The last session was a plenary session. Before retiring for lunch all participants had to fill in the questionnaires. Since the lunch ticket was given only in exchange of the filled in questionnaire, everybody did his/her best just like good students.
Sponsoring social apostolate members, school educators and the staff of the site in Kamagasaki scrupulously prepared for this seminar, from its planning stages. But, after all, the impact Kamagasaki has, the human richness of the speakers, the teachers conducting the live-in seminars for their students in Kamagasaki and the magnanimity of so many joyful participants were all blessings. When people, cooperating with open minds, share common useful information, everybody feels quite satisfied, as the story tells of the left over, after sharing some bread and fish. If teachers take the initiative in getting experiences together with the students, they will find it easy to explain with their own words things they perceived. I think that even for school administrators there is a demand to build up systems to promote the participation of teachers in workshops that stress first-hand experiences. Gratitude for all.