Close your eyes and imagine this: you are five years old and have a mother who lives 20 minutes into town. You see her from time to time on the odd holiday, but you’ve been living in a children’s home since you can remember. One day, out of the blue, your mother shows up clutching a baby. Your pulse quickens – “She’s here to take me home! We are no longer too poor.” Turns out, she’s there to drop off baby number three. Your heart turns to ash.
You spend most of your days hiding from the outside world. You haven’t used words to communicate for so long, you feel as though your tongue is limp. You are safe now, living in a children’s home, but you fight hard to keep from drowning in memories – memories of your parents taking their anger and stress out on you, memories of cold, hungry nights, memories you are desperate to forget.
Now, please, open your eyes. What you just imagined, although fictional, is the hidden reality for still too many children in Japan. There are approximately 30,000 children institutionalized in care homes across this country all with heart-wrenching stories to tell. Mirai no Mori, an accredited NPO based in Japan, has been breathing life, hope and healing back into these children’s lives since 2013.
Mirai No Mori’s Story
Mirai no Mori (literally, “the future forest”) was co-founded in 2013 by Dave Paddock and Jeff Jensen, along with Kozue Oka, the executive director. Operating mostly in the Kanto and Tohoku regions, they work tirelessly to infuse their various outdoor programs with the life-changing experiences that these children struggle to find in their daily lives.
The issue that Mirai no Mori focuses on in all their programs is to remedy the limited opportunities children in those institutionalized homes have for learning life lessons through experience. Due to the limited ways the institutions operate, the children do not have enough opportunities to make decisions individually, nor challenge themselves in a safe environment, a place where they can be themselves, or having a hand to hold when in need.
Mirai no Mori strives to create this environment through various programs that can provide just that. Exposing the children to the idea that they can feel safe to display their true selves and learn more about who they are, eventually leads to building confidence and self-actualization.
Mirai No Mori’s Programs
The organization’s various programs can be broken up into four main categories of events – summer camps, winter camps, LIT (Leader In Training) programs and Back to Nature programs.
Surrounded by the beautiful countryside of Japan, the “campers” (aged 6-16) spend four or five days following a carefully constructed curriculum such as camping, outdoor cooking, hiking and bonfires. Learning how to communicate in English with “leaders” (dedicated volunteers and staff from around the globe) and peers is also weaved into the program, giving the “campers” a chance to practice the English they learn at school.
One rather unusual activity they repeat annually is one that fills the “campers” with excitement, but also boosts their self-confidence and gives them the chance to come out of their shells. The “leaders” and “campers” combined go on a short hike following a river that eventually leads to a small waterfall. At the fall, the children are encouraged to jump off the top. If they are unsure or afraid to do so, they can find their favorite “leader” and jump together. Those that cannot bring themselves to jump on the first year often try again at the next opportunity, but all go home with just a bit more hope that there are people who really do care for them.
© Photo by Life14
Packed to the brim with exciting new experiences, the winter camps are much like the summer camps, in the sense that they are planned with care and consideration. For some “campers” it may be their first time to see snow, but for all, it is an adventure overall. Activities such as night hiking, sledding and snowshoeing take place along with mini-science classes about winter.
One “camper” who attended a winter camp said, “My dream was to work in an ice cream shop but now I would like to be a LIT participant, eventually becoming a Mirai no Mori staff, to bring a smile to everyone’s face. So I decided to do my best to learn English from now on.”
Leader In Training (LIT) Program
Launched in the summer of 2014, this program is designed for those 16-18 years of age, who want to gain further understanding of what it takes to be a leader, helping younger future “campers” have a safe and unforgettable experience. Along with learning new survival skills and facing a designated challenge (such as a 16-km hike on their own), LIT participants aim to improve their work skills, English ability and personal character growth all in the hopes that this will contribute to making a smooth transition to adult life.
One of the main reasons Mirai no Mori focuses on high school students is that they are essentially forced to “graduate” from their care homes when they turn 18, and have to learn to survive on their own. Thus the LIT program is designed to fast-track them to develop some of the basic skills that will become essential in order to integrate into society – such as, communication, organizational skills, human-relation skills, and the mindsets needed, resilience and flexibility.
Back to Nature Program
Also launched in 2014, this program encourages participants to learn a little bit more about the world they live in. Through hands-on projects like reforestation and river cleaning, the children gain knowledge and experience with “how to give back.” And when the time comes for them to do so, the often undervalued individuals feel needed and come to realize that they have a meaningful role to play in society.
If you have considered “giving back” yourself, below are some of the few ways you can play a part in the growing not-for-profit charity, Mirai no Mori.
- Volunteer to be a “leader” at camps
- Donate towards their programs
- Become a corporate sponsor
- Become a fundraising organizer
- Support the Mirai no Mori through graphic design
- Become a translator
- Use your skills to build the NPO’s social media
- Provide them with outdoor equipment
And last, but not least, there is a wonderful summer party hosted by Mirai no Mori at New Tomorrow Café in Minami-Azabu on June 29, 2018, welcoming all who are interested to know more about the organization and its work.
Details of Mirai no Mori’s Summer Party 2018
Date: Friday, June 29, 2018
Time: 6 p.m.-8 p.m.
Location: New Tomorrow Cafe, 4-6-1 Minami-azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5 min. walk from Hiroo station
Cost: ¥6,000 (early bird till June 18) / ¥7,000 (after June 19). Includes food, drinks, and a small donation. All payments will be collected in cash at the door.
Dress Code: Casual
Registration: By Monday, June 25th. Register here: http://bit.ly/2018SummerParty-Registration
For cancellations and general inquiries contact Mirai no Mori at firstname.lastname@example.org (by Monday, June 25th). For more information on Mirai no Mori’s work, check their official website.
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