Dignity Day - Japan
Having conducted the traditional style Dignity Day of speaking in front of large audiences for the last couple of years, the YGLs in Japan decided to try a new approach this year.
An encounter on board our flight to Summer Davos with an inspiring and energetic high school teacher led to YGLs visit Matsuyama, a regional city in the Shikoku Islands famous for ancient onsen (hot spas), to meet and spend the day with three high school students, all of whom had been facing challenges in their family and school lives.
One of them had stopped attending school, and the teachers could not persuade her to come back. The other two had difficult family situations that had led to unstable school lives and lack of confidence in the future. We decided that spending quality time with these youths individually was just as important and rewarding as talking to large groups.
When we met at 9:30am on a Sunday morning, we did not have a clear agenda. The sky was clear, the air crisp, and our only objective was to spend the day together and listen to their stories. We walked and walked up the hill to the top of Matsuyama Castle, known for breath-taking views. There we split into small groups. We bought ice cream, and sat at the bench looking over the city. Some of us decided to buy a ticket to walk up the steep wooden stairs within the castle. We joked and laughed together, and talked and talked and talked. We were not adults trying to tell them what to do, we had become friends. They told us what their dreams and aspirations were. We told them that anything was possible.
When we left Matsuyama in late afternoon, we were not quite sure whether we had really achieved our objectives of spreading the concept of dignity and making a difference in their lives. After all, didn’t the students seem happy to begin with? A short message that we received in our mailbox couple of days from the teacher we got back to Tokyo convinced us that we had been successful.
The teacher told us that she had never seen those three girls so cheerful and energetic. The girl that had not gone to school for over a year had started showing up on campus, though after hours, and her mother was shocked and asked the teacher what had happened that day. She had even committed that she will try to attend school every day, starting the new school year. Another student told her that she had studied for four hours the previous day and she will promise that she will make into rank B in her class, a big step-up from where she was. The third girl was looking at the picture we took and had been smiling all day since.
We did not make inspiring speeches nor tell them brilliant stories. All we did was walk with them, laugh with them, listen to them carefully for the whole day, and tell them that they had a bright future. Maybe that was all that they had always wanted from us adults. And after all, that is probably at the heart of dignity. We probably learned more from them that day than the children learned from us — and we are very grateful for that.
Kumi Fujisawa, Chikara Funabashi, Kohei Nishiyama, Daisuke Iwase, Tokyo/Japan
Hiking began with three high school students, one college student, two teachers and two YGLs. We met at 9:30 am at in front of Starbucks and introduced each other as we head to Matsuyama Castle on the tip of mountain. The hiking was a good half hour walk on a hilly road. We introduced each other as we walked step by step. We decided to go hiking because, if it were hiking it was ok to remain without conversation while walking. We often find it easier to begin the conversation when we are not facing each other but rather when we were next to each other- heading towards same direction.
Ms. O, joined us as volunteer to meet student. Being a teacher herself of different Junior High school, seeing students on weekend to talk about freely about life, society, future, career, family was different and meaningful event, she said.
Teachers and students were NOT teachers and students in this setting.
We were all equal individual at same level that day. We would have a conversation as grown ups and we would use grown up languages.
We did what adults would do when they need a break. Some went to buy icecream, others went to buy traditional Japanese sweets. Junior High school teacher Ms. O to the left and YGL Kohei Nishiyama to the right.
Students came to this weekend event with YGLs because of their teacher, Ms. G. Without her, this event would not have been possible. She has been walking with students after school time to time. Students would send her a text message when they needed some one to talk to, seeking for a personal coach.
Many of her past student who had difficulty attending school have become a successful, distinguished bankers and teachers after graduating.
We believe teachers like her who can pass important value to youth has great impact to the future of society. Who else could create youth that understand the concept of tolerance for the weak people, unless they were helped when they were weak?
High school teacher Ms. G, Bottom center, and Daisuke Iwase YGL, Bottom to the right.