"Musubi no Kai" volunteer staff

Since almost 10 years ago, hundreds of Filipino foreign workers gather once a week at Umeda Catholic Church (Tokyo) to attend religious services. At present, over 230 persons come to mass every Sunday to pray and to meet friends. They are, usually, busy during the week performing all kinds of hard and unpleasant works, but on Sundays look for relaxation with friends and co-nationals, exchanging information and gossip at the Church. Most Filipino Christians come to attend mass, bringing their families and children to pray and sing together as a community.

The following article deals with a new initiative taken by a group of volunteers, called "Musubi no Kai" (To Join Hands), whose members have been accompanying foreign workers, non-Christian as well as Christian, for more than 10 years, mainly in the Adachi region, North of Tokyo. The group is closely related to the Jesuit Social Center.
It was only last year that we were very glad to have our own office, a small place, spacious enough to accommodate our friends and conduce our various activities.
The group was introduced to the parishioners of Umeda Catholic Church by distributing tiny leaflets (good enough to be inserted in a wallet). The leaflets tell how can we be of help, like in health issues, child education, labor, spiritual guidance, family problems, city hall and embassy proceedings, immigration and police, visits to prisons and hospitals and legal matters. Information, like the telephone number of the office and staff and a map is also written there. We assure our friends that they are welcomed any time to visit us, and that whatever they consult us is kept in privacy.
We have been always aware of the importance for foreign workers to have a good basic knowledge of the Japanese language, but due to many pressing problems they face in daily life, like health, jobs, housing and legal problems, there was no way to confront the issue of language. On the other hand, resources and fit volunteers were not at hand. But, since the Musubi no Kai estimates that about 13 children of Filipino families living in the Adachi ward are out of school, for many obvious reasons, private volunteer education lessons have been going on for more than 3 years.

Children of Different Nationalities
According to the 2004 Catopedia of the Japanese Catholic Church, "At present, about 2 million foreigners live in Japan, including 200,000 school-age children. Besides these, there are many other children, for instance those born from parents that have international roots. According to the Welfare Ministry, 36,139 children were born from Filipino parents, between 1995 and 2001. And if one adds those born from parents that are not officially recorded it will be impossible to figure out the exact number of Japanese-Filipino children living in Japan." (Multicultural Challenges of the Catholic Church)
The Adachi ward (Tokyo) is home to many children from several countries and the number of children whose parents belong to different cultures and hold various nationalities is increasing.
Since several years ago, the Umeda Catholic Church felling the need to conduct religious education for children attending the Sunday English masses, started Sunday Bible classes and 3-month courses to prepare children for First Holy Communion. On top of that, the Church conducts summer camps and Christmas events with the participation of more than 30 children. These provide a natural occasion for children to share together their joyful and sad daily experiences and to talk without reserve about the life at school, their friends and the various problems they face everyday.
Language problem is very serious. Unless they really master Japanese language they cannot follow the study of other subjects at the school. They often ask for the meaning of words that are used in ordinary conversation. There are cases like this: A student of Preliminary school brought home an arithmetic assignment, but could not understand the meaning. The Filipina mother, eager for the education of her child, phoned a "Musubi no Kai" staff member. Then, using the telephone as a speaker also, a conversation between 3 persons started the following way. First, the child read in a loud voice the homework: " Five goldfish (kingyo) are swimming inside a water container (suiso). I put in two more goldfish. All together added how many goldfish are in the water container?" Then, the mother asked: "What is a 'suiso'? What does 'kingyo' mean?
In case the arithmetic homework would be written [5+2=?] there should not be a major problem, but since it is written in a Japanese sentence it becomes difficult to understand.
Nevertheless, when the mother is eagerly interested in the studies of her child a solution can be found, but if the parents feel that there is no special problem, "because the child speaks Japanese and attends school with other Japanese children," there is usually no talk about this issue and in some cases there is not enough understanding of the problems Filipino children are studying.
Basically, Filipino children enter the school grades fit to their ages, and no matter supplementary courses, they are unable to follow the curriculum course. Even if they attend school they do not understand the subjects. The school is boring to them and when they meet with bullying from other students they stop going to school. The staff of "Musubi no Kai" conducts private lessons for children that refuse to attend school. But, those children are always waiting with great interest the time of the lessons and when the lesson is finished they thank us, adding that they really enjoyed the study done with us. In fact, observing these children that cannot attend school, in spite of their interest in learning, their joyfulness and frankness, the thing that parents, the school and the education committees should do is to come together to discuss thoroughly, what could be the best way to develop the children's possibilities and how to do it.
There are many other pending problems to be confronted, in order to guide children living in Japan to a happy future life here, like the problems of school-age children that are not enrolled in schools, Japanese language (Kanji included) personal guidance, care of mental anxieties due to bullying and violence, problems of cultural identity, and so forth.

The Challenge of Basic Japanese for Adults
In the middle of last year, we started to conduct Japanese classes. The first class started in July-September - a 2-month intensive course on Basic Hiragana and Katakana with just 11 learners. The second intensive course started in October-December with 6 learners of Basic Hiragana and Katakana, and 10 learners on Grade I Kanji.
This year was a huge response and we are conducting 4 classes with 31 learners in all. The classes start after the mass, every Sunday, and the majority of the learners are wives of Japanese nationals.

It was a great help and opportunity for these wives that, in an hour and a half every week, they are able to give time for themselves to study, a change in their daily routine. There is always a kind of wonder to learn new words appropriately used in every situation they are in.
Apart from the studying process, it is also a time for them to exchange ideas with others. There exists a special kind of friendship and bond in everyone that they always look forward to every week's lessons.
With their own worries and stress in everyday life in Japanese society, there is a special healing when one expresses herself and the comfort she feels when knowing that everyone experiences the same.
The immediate reason for starting the intensive courses on Basic Japanese was a strong desire from the Filipinos themselves to learn more. In our involvement with the problems they face, we have realized how often many labor conflicts arose from their ignorance of Japanese reading and writing. Managers present them documents written in Japanese and tell them to sign. Shortly afterwards they are fired without realizing that they had signed their own dismissal. Later on, when they consult us and show those documents they come to understand the truth.
Most foreign workers in Japan are unable to attend Japanese language schools and thus they remain illiterate in reading and writing Japanese characters, no matter the 2 or 3 languages they already know. This situation works against them and it's one of the main causes for their exploitation. Literacy is one of the basic rights of a person in any society.
The following are the opinions of some of the participants.
"I have been extremely helped by the courses. I can use now the proper Japanese words and can write some 'Kanji' and understand the meaning. I want to learn more from now on. I have 2 little children, age 5 and 3 and I want to teach them a correct and easy Japanese language."
"I want to show my gratitude to the volunteer staff. I studied some Japanese by myself, but it's totally different now with a teacher. Before, I studied some simple Kanji without knowing the correct way to write them, but after attending the short courses I learned the right ways to write them for the first time. The Japanese lessons are enjoyable, because we can acquire knowledge of other matters, no matter how little time we have. I want to continue the courses because we get more opportunities of making friends. I want to increase my knowledge."
Another Filipina says: "Learning to read and write in Japanese was of great help for me, as I am newly married to a Japanese and especially now that I am expecting my first baby. I know it will greatly benefit me in my new life with my growing family."
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