After leaving the APADRC as Program Director and arriving in Tokyo this past August, time has been peeling away as I’ve acclimated. There has been so much to learn: new cultural norms, language, re-establishing a routine, growing familiar with the institutions of International Christian University (ICU) where I am an MA graduate student, and getting to know the other 9 Rotary Peace Fellows and many other students here. This spring though, I am dedicated to becoming more active in my community and on the ICU campus to bring new resources and trainings in collaboration with the APADRC and other organizations.
Every week I have been partnering with an organization called Space Hachinoko, which is a hub for social welfare and education related groups and activities. I spend time conversing in English with women and mothers who are looking to improve their English-speaking abilities, usually in anticipation of returning to the job market. The organization also include a daycare center and after school care program, a clinic, organic cafe, and various support groups for non-Japanese residents living in the area. All of these activities are supported and run by the collaboration of parents, staff, and volunteers.
The topics in these conversations vary week to week, but I have been learning about the challenges that particularly mothers face in Japanese society. For example, the center helps support the children of non-Japanese families with after-school tutoring and support. I can testify first-hand how challenging the Japanese language is! Additionally, the organization just gave crowd-funded assistance for the first time ever to a young college-bound woman had needed to pay for her college registration, but her financial aid wouldn’t arrive until the following month. Because both of her parents were between jobs at the time, she was ineligible for bank loans, and Space Hachinoko helped raise enough money to cover her registration. It is heartening to have found this organization, affirming that there are incredible grassroots community organizations everywhere, working to support immigrant, non-native language speakers through the ups and downs of navigating cultural and bureaucratic challenges of their new homes.
This January, a delegation of undergraduate students from the University of the Free State, South Africa came to visit the ICU campus. These student leaders came as part of the “Leadership for Change” program, which was a prevention intervention program launched in 2010 in response to racially motivated tensions and incidents on the campus. I was honored to spend a good deal of time with these student leaders in both informal settings such as karaoke, and was honored when they invited me to give a presentation on mediation and the work of the APADRC. Many of the students in the program were also medical students, and so they were very interested in the idea of using mediation as an alternative to litigation in their practices, as only one or two of them had ever heard of mediation before. They also bravely offered to wake up a little earlier one morning if I would give a basic communication and conflict styles training, which we arranged for the day before their departure back to South Africa. This was also their first introduction to these communication concepts, and we explored listening, communication styles, and diversity within the group. At the end of the training one of the students presented me with a beautiful beaded bracelet that she had made that is popular and generally sold by beach vendors in South Africa. I think that it was that moment where I was truly awed at how from Los Angeles and South Africa we were brought to Tokyo in order for this exchange of ideas, friendship and inspiration to take place, and felt blessed.
Also in January, I coordinated a workshop that brought Lissette Lorenz, a Shansi fellow from Oberlin, to ICU to introduce Theater of the Oppressed (TO) principles and exercises. I was originally introduced to Theater of the Oppressed through the work of Gender Justice LA, ImaginAction, and eventually participated in an LA workshop facilitated by Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers detained in Iran in 2009. TO is a model of community-based theater developed by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Augusto Boal. First started in Brazil, Boal’s native country, it has been practiced around the world for over 40 years. The goal of TO is for participants to dramatically analyze real-life oppressions/obstacles/challenges they face and act out potential solutions to overcome them. The theater process thus empowers participants to go out into the world and take action against the oppression, using the very solutions they tried out during scene work. TO is, according to Boal, “rehearsal for the revolution.”
We had an incredibly diverse group of participants, including individuals from Sri Lanka, Russia, Thailand, Japan, and the U.S. For all of these participants, this was their first introduction to Theater of the Oppressed. In the workshop space, we explored a number of social issues relevant to the group’s issues and concerns, including the role of language and power dynamics on the university campus. ICU offers courses in both English and Japanese, and so challenges arise in the classroom as students struggle to understand and express themselves in a non-native language. In one of our Forum Theater plays, we explored ways in which teachers, non-native speakers and native speakers could make the university classroom a safer and more supportive environment for the open sharing of ideas.
Although it has been challenging to leave the incredibly vibrant mediation community of Los Angeles, I am excited to share these concepts and ideas with my new community here in Tokyo. Whenever I speak about mediation or the APADRC and its role in peacebuilding across diverse communities in Los Angeles, I have been received by students and teachers positively and they show a tremendous interest in learning more. I am excited to announce that our next large-scale project that will be taking place this spring is the APADRC’s first international Community Mediation training on the ICU campus! We will be offering the training to Rotary Peace Fellows, Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS) Fellows, and ICU students, staff and faculty. Stay updated by making sure to sign up for our newsletter (if you haven’t done so already) and please consider making a donation to help support the APADRC’s work in offering trainings and our other incredible programs. From my perspective across the Pacific ocean, I can only tell you that my experience has reaffirmed how unique the APADRC is in its legacy and commitment to supporting the API community in Los Angeles and building bridges of peace across LA’s diverse communities through conflict resolution and mediation. I send my appreciation and support to all of the incredible staff, volunteers, teacher sponsors, peer mediators and supporters that help make sure that these incredible services are available and look forward to seeing you all again soon!