2018 AJCU-AP Service Learning Program held in Tokyo/Kamaishi
From August 1 to 13, the annual Service Learning Program of AJCU-AP (Association of Jesuit College and Universities-Asia Pacific) was held in Japan, hosted by Sophia University. The theme of this year’s program was “Post-disaster Community Recovery”. Participants visited for one week the city of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture, which had been stricken by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Students studied the progress of the reconstruction and recovery of the area through volunteer activities as well as exchanges with people from the local community. A total of twenty-eight students and nine faculty members joined from eight universities, including six students from Indonesia, seven students from the Philippines, four students from Korea, two students from East Timor and nine students from Sophia University.
Prior to visiting Iwate, lectures were held for three days at Sophia University as preparation for the service learning trip, which included the topics of Ignatius education and spirituality, and post-disaster recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake. In the city of Kamaishi, participants joined various events and volunteer activities including weeding at a local NPO farm, cleaning factory buildings, working at a festival for a nursery school, and staging a performance of cultural dances for the elderly at a nursing home. Students and staff also joined the “Kamaishi Yoisa Festival”, a traditional dance festival, held every summer together with locals. Participants also had opportunities to consider issues regarding disaster prevention and evacuation measures by visiting the areas seriously affected by the disaster such as the town of Ofunato (having exchanges with locals from the Philippine community at Ofunato Church), the town of Rikuzentakada, severely struck by the tsunami, and the town of Unosumai and Otsuchi next to the city of Kamaishi with a professional tour guide who was also a survivor of the disaster.
Given the opportunities to have direct exchanges with survivors by listening to their painful stories, some students experienced life-transforming changes in their values and worldview, realizing the importance of faith, and gratitude for their life and surroundings. International students also discussed the case of their own countries considering how to address natural disasters utilizing knowledge acquired from the program. The success of the program was also evident by the sincerity and seriousness projected by all participants from their group reflections each evening and at the end of the program.