Race to the Top is back!

The National AJET Race to the Top Challenge is back!

Last year, the JET community shattered goals for community involvement. Together, we raised over 2,100,000 yen and logged over 3,600 volunteer hours. Let’s again show all of Japan what we’ve got!

For any volunteer event, charity event, or fundraising campaign, please fill out the JET Community Service Tracker form. Log all hours served and all funds raised. Be it 1 or 100,000 yen, 2 or 200 hours, National AJET wants to hear about it!

The challenge will run for 6 months, from November 1, 2014 through April 31, 2015. Let’s make a difference now!

Projects by JETs: Chris Low


It’s rare when someone can say he broke down crying in class and call it one of the best classes ever.

I’m Chris, an ALT in Saitama Prefecture. I was doing a group activity with students where they pretended to create philanthropic organizations. Their ideas brought me to tears, and made me want to do more for hungry children. I wanted to do more than just talk about it with my students; I wanted to be an example. So, I started a fundraiser through FeedingAmerica.org.

Imagine looking forward to going to school every day, not because you could learn, but because you could finally eat. Imagine dreading the weekend, because that meal will disappear for two entire days. Then, imagine the shame, fear, and frustration of wanting to do well, but being too hungry to focus. Thousands of children face this every day. But, people like you and me are helping. You can read more about the story of what happened in my class on my project page, Food from 6500 Miles Away. If you could help me share it, it would be a huge step forward. Thanks for your time, and my best wishes to you.

Race to the Top results are in!

This past year National AJET set ambitious goals for JET community involvement: 1,000,000 yen raised for charity and 10,000 volunteer hours of community service. To allow JETs to log their contributions to the community, AJET introduced the JET Community Service Tracker, an online form designed to collect data on volunteer hours served and charity money raised by JETs around Japan.

AJET used the JET Community Service Tracker to determine the winners of the Race to the Top Challenge, a contest to see which prefecture could raise the most yen and volunteer hours per JET. The challenge ran from November 1, 2013 through April 31, 2014. After six months, AJET is proud to declare the winners of the Race to the Top Challenge!

Top 3 Prefectures: Money Raised

Prefecture Total money raised Money raised per JET
1. Saga (48 JETs) ¥400,000 ¥8,333
2. Niigata (102 JETs) ¥551,888 ¥5,410
3. Oita (80 JETs) ¥185,019 ¥2,312

Top 3 Prefectures: Community Service Hours

Prefecture Total hours Hours per JET
1. Yamagata (81 JETs) 1189 14.6
2. Saga (48 JETs) 294 6.1
3. Hokkaido (263 JETs) 1476 5.6

Nationwide Totals

Total money raised Total hours
¥2,105,258 3676

Congratulations to Saga and Yamagata for your extraordinary commitment to the community! You are the champions, but the people of Saga and Yamagata are the real winners to have such dedicated and generous JETs.

The JET Community Service Tracker is still up and running. The information on the Tracker allows AJET to share the positive impact JETs make in their communities with the Japanese Ministries that support JET and with the Japanese public. Please visit the JET Community Service Tracker and continue to log your JET community’s positive impact!​

Filmmaker needs your help to show the real Fukushima

andersonCameron Anderson met up with Fukushima JETs on his trip to Japan and became inspired to show the world the real Fukushima. Tired of all the misleading publicity, Mr. Anderson seeks to help people, “forget about what it means to be a disaster, and discover what it means to be Fukushima.” But he needs your help. Go to Story Hive and learn about Mr. Andersen’s project and how you can help him to receive the budget he needs to turn his idea into a reality. Voting closes on April 27th.

You can also learn more about Mr. Anderson’s project through this article on Japan Today.

JETs Rally for Tohoku: Deadline Extended

Global Giving has generously extended the donation-matching campaign to benefit Tohoku! Donations will continue to be matched yen for yen and dollar for dollar. If you weren’t able to give on 3.11 this is your big second chance to make a big difference!

JETs Rally for Tohoku

tamfSupport the Taylor Anderson Memorial Foundation by donating during a 24-hour donation drive that starts when the clock strikes midnight in Japan on March 11. Global Giving has offered to match these donations. This is a great opportunity to show your ongoing support for Tohoku by going to the Global Giving website on March 11th to make a donation during the matching grant period.

Online donation drive

  • Donation website: JETs Rally for Tohoku
  • Starts: 12:00 midnight Japan time on March 11th (10 am EST on March 10th; 7 am PST, etc)
  • Ends: 11:59 p.m. Japan time on March 11th (9:59 am EST on March 11th)

Three years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and the devastation in Tohoku has largely faded from the news. However, so much remains to be done for the survivors and TAMF has been partnering with a number of organizations in Japan to provide relief and help the people of Tohoku build a strong and vibrant future.

TAMF has provided funding to the following projects:

  • Smile Together Ishinomaki
  • Living Dreams: Tohoku Kids Project
  • Hope for Tomorrow
  • JET Micro Grants
  • Taylor Anderson Reading Corners
  • Taylor Sendai YMCA Scholarships
  • Exchange Programs

For more information on TAMF, please go to the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund website, their Facebook page, or watch the NHK interview with Jeanne and Andy below. JETAA USA is proud to partner with TAMF to carry on the support JETs and JET alumni have shown for Japan and the people of Tohoku ever since March 2011.

All donations up to $1,000 per individual donor made to the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund on March 11th Japan time will be matched by Global Giving through their Japan Match Global Giving program. (Global Giving will charge a 15% facilitation fee to cover their costs, which donors may choose to cover if they wish so that their full donation amount goes to TAMF. See the donation page for details.)

We are also very happy to see Ambassador Kennedy giving her backing to their mission as well. For coverage of her recent trip to Ishinomaki and visit to Mangokuura Elementary School, where Taylor taught, please check out this article on The Asahi Shimbun.

Volunteer Interpreters Needed: Ishigaki ITU World Cup Triathlon

Every year, Ishigaki City, Okinawa hosts the Ishigaki ITU Triathlon World Cup and Ishigaki Island Triathlon. This year’s races will take place on Sunday, April 14, 2013, and the athletes and organizers need your help!

If you have advanced Japanese ability and are interested in volunteering as an interpreter for the event, please read over the following documents.

  1. Event Overview Letter (English & Japanese)
  2. Volunteer Application (PDF, Doc)
  3. Triathlon Overview (Japanese)
  4. Terms and Conditions of Volunteer Programme (English & Japanese)
  5. Overview of Volunteer Roles* (Japanese)

*Volunteer roles are subject to change and will be updated as the event draws nearer.

Questions, applications, and general good thoughts should be directed to Jane Qiu, Ishigaki CIR, at cir@city.ishigaki.okinawa.jp.

Annual PEPY Ride Fundraiser 2012

Dear PEPY Supporters,

PEPY Tours is busy getting ready for the annual PEPY Ride and we’d love for you to join!

The PEPY Ride is PEPY Tours’ biggest yearly fundraising event, and will take place from December 24th 2012 – January 12th 2013. This cycling adventure offers a unique opportunity to explore, learn, and cycle across Cambodia, all while continuing to support our educational and youth leadership projects. To learn more about how you can take part, please visit http://www.pepytours.com/pepy-ride-viii-2/.

During the trip participants will be introduced to innovative social enterprises, community development projects and local entrepreneurs, all working on creating positive change in inspiring ways. To add to that, the off-the-beaten-track style of this trip allows riders to get up-close-and-personal with Cambodian culture, history, language, and people, all while taking in some of the country’s most beautiful rural back-roads.

The PEPY Ride VIII isn’t just a journey across land, but a learning adventure that will introduce riders to new ideas, perspectives, foods, cultures, traditions and friends, as well as lots of exciting new places. And all while supporting PEPY!

Our mission is to invest time and resources in young people in Cambodia, working with them to connect them to the skills, systems, and inspiration necessary to achieve their goals, raise standards of living, and improve the quality of education in their communities. By participating in this cycling adventure you can help PEPY achieve this.

Thank you!

Tips for Volunteering in Tohoku

Originally written for the October 2012 issue of Connect

In July, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Japan in Miyagi- ken. It was an amazing experience and one I’d definitely recommend. Before you jump in, however, here are some important pointers to consider when planning your own volunteering stint in the Tohoku area.

It’s far!

Factor in travel times and when you’re expected be at the organization. Not only do you need to get yourself to Tohuku, but the organization’s office may not be easily accessible or in a major city. Habitat’s Tagajo office is a twenty minute train ride from Sendai station plus a ten minute walk. Most organizations also prefer you to show up the night before your volunteer work begins.

How to get there

Depending on where you live, you may have to fly or take serious nenkyu to make a trip to Tohoku, but plane tickets can be expensive unless you plan well in advance. If you live fairly close to Tohoku, trains may be a convenient option, but the option I prefer for cost and convenience is the highway bus. There are many companies out there so look into which ones offer services to Sendai.

Save some money

If you want to fly, start planning your trip months in advance. For buses, Willer Express offers a bus pass that even residents can use. The hard part is that someone outside of Japan has to purchase it. Once you set up an account online and someone buys the pass for you under your account, you can make reservations on the Willer website. Instead of a ticket, you receive a reservation number to show when you check in for your bus. Willer offers three-day, four-day and five-day passes, which means that in the two months from the date you purchase the pass, you can travel that many days on any Willer buses that offer relax seats and below. For example, with a 12,000 yen four-day pass, I traveled roundtrip to Sendai and Tokyo within a two month span. One way to Sendai on a relax bus is almost 9,000 yen, so it really does offer huge savings. For more information, visit: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2369.html


The organization you work with will send you a list of what to bring with you, so pack well. In the hard-hit areas, volunteer shelters will have the bare minimum, so you’ll need to bring a sleeping bag, pillow, and maybe even food and water (depending on the location of the nearest combini). Habitat’s Tagajo house has bedding and extra gum boots to work in, but you still need to bring work gear, such as gloves, comfortable work clothes, and rain gear. We also stopped at a combini before going to the work site, so food wasn’t an issue.

Don’t overdo it and HAVE FUN!

Stretch, take plenty of breaks, and meet amazing new people. My team included five awesome college kids from Kansai and Kyushu, which made the work more fun. If many people are interested, you can even form a team and work together in Tohoku.

Share your adventures with family, friends, and your Japanese community!

Habitat for Humanity Japan

Originally written for the October 2012 issue of Connect

Some of us already know the international nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity (HfH) from their work in our home countries. HfH’s goal is to provide decent housing to those who need it, for which they are very much reliant on the work of volunteers. In 2002, Habitat Japan was established and they focused on fundraising and sending Japanese volunteers to international HfH building sites. Since 3.11, most of Habitat Japan’s work focuses on disaster response and supporting those affected by the natural disasters. While they continue to organize international volunteer trips, every week Habitat Japan volunteers head to Tohoku to take part in recovery efforts.

Projects vary depending on the needs and schedules in the area. The first time I worked with Habitat Japan, we helped clear debris and plants so a house could later be built at that site. In September, I had a chance to work on a building project and I couldn’t pass it up. Habitat Japan posted a call for volunteers for Monday, Sept. 17 to Wednesday, Sept. 19. Since that Monday was a holiday, I decided to go to Tokyo for a day and then take a day bus from Tokyo to Sendai. I hope the following diary helps in understanding how Habitat Japan’s Izushima program works.

Monday, September 17

I arrived in Sendai with plenty of time to grab food and search for last minute supplies. (FYI: Daiso carries rubber dipped gloves if you can’t find them elsewhere!). The train from Sendai Station to Tagajo Station takes about twenty minutes and then there’s a ten minute walk from the station to the Habitat house. Once I got to the house, I met the rest of the 13 member team and we had an orientation about the Izushima project. Izushima is an island off of Onagawa Town in Miyagi prefecture and home to about 650 people. Many people in Izushima relied on growing sea pineapples as a source of income. The tsunami destroyed all those facilities and almost all the homes on the island. Habitat Japan and It’s Not Just Mud have helped in some of the rebuilding efforts on the island. On this trip, the team would work to complete a building that had been started. This building would serve as a multipurpose community center. The orientation was all in Japanese, but the Habitat staff and some of the volunteers spoke English so I was still able to understand. The Izushima volunteer project participation fee was 10,000 yen, which included transportation from the Tagajo office to the site and back, meals for Tuesday and Wednesday, and insurance. After the meeting, we set out our futons, took showers (there wouldn’t be shower facilities on the island), and went to bed.

Tuesday, September 18

I woke up at a cheery 4:30am and at 5:15am we all piled into the vans and left Tagajo. On the way we stopped at a combini and were told to get 1500 yen or less for breakfast and lunch, which the Habitat staff paid for. At about 7:15am we arrived at the ferry dock. We unloaded our things onto the ferry and the construction materials were transferred to the boat of a local man who was also volunteering. After a forty minute ferry ride and a twenty minute car ride, we were finally at the site we’d be working and staying in. We put our belongings in the temporary volunteer house and geared up to begin our work.

The building we’d be working on was only walls and a ceiling and at 9:30am we had a quick meeting about the day’s work. The man from the boat was helping with construction work and two local women made sure we had plenty of snacks and drinks at breaks. Before I knew what was happening, I was given a hammer and told to put nails along the chalk marks on the walls. I have very little building experience but gained confidence as I realized no one was watching me work. Once all the nails were in place, windows were cut into the walls and I helped take down support beams. Then, tasks were divided up. Some people measured and drew lines on more plywood, marking where nails would go. Others weatherproofed pieces of wood for a table and another team was doing work on the roof. I helped install the insulation to the walls and ceiling of the building. At around 1pm we took our lunch break in the housing shelter. It was interesting talking to other people on the team and hearing their reasons for volunteering. We had a diverse volunteer group and I met some genki college students from Tokyo. Some of them had lived abroad or were international students and I sat in awe as they switched from English to Japanese and back all in a sentence.

After lunch we finished putting in the insulation, covered it with plywood and nailed it in. The roof work was progressing; one group started building a table and the entrance way, the other painted the outside of the building to weatherproof it. Another girl and I were given the task of rebuilding a bench that had been taken apart for shipment to the island. Like a puzzle with only a picture to look at, it was mainly trial and error. Other teams finished the front windows and we called it a day at 5:30pm. For dinner, everyone pitched in with prepping, cooking, and setting the tables for a family style meal. One of the ladies from Izushima gave us a ton of shelled scallops and scallop sashimi, too. After dinner we set up our sleeping bags and had a quick meeting before bed. At the meeting we each shared our impressions of Izushima.

Wednesday, September 19

On Wednesday, we woke up at a more respectable 7am and enjoyed leftover curry for breakfast. At 8am we had our brief meeting and then continued our work. A few volunteers from It’s Not Just Mud joined the work, which really helped. While I worked on continuing to assemble the bench from the day before, most people were working on roof details. Before long, it was already lunchtime and we had kimchi yakisoba. We couldn’t relax too long, though, because we needed to finish working by 2:30pm so that we could pack up and catch our 3:30pm ferry. My group finished assembling and repainting the children’s bench while another finished the roof and entranceway. It was a lot of work but the finished building looked pretty sweet! We spent 2:30-3:30 finishing up, packing everything up and loading it into the van, unloading it at the ferry port, and loading everything onto the ferry. People on the ferry helped us carry things and didn’t care that the ferry was behind schedule because of us. Once back on the mainland, we loaded everything into the appropriate vans and those of us who had to catch trains and buses headed out early. We made it back to Tagajo at 7pm and I took the train to Sendai, quickly grabbed some combini food for dinner, and boarded my night bus at 7:50pm. Since I hadn’t had a chance to get omiyage, I bought some zunda dango at the first pit stop and then slept all the way to Kyoto.

My Impression

Habitat Japan offers a quick way to volunteer and see how Tohoku is today. Every month they post calls for volunteers on their website and Facebook pages. It’s easy to get involved so don’t worry about your language or building skills. And the Habitat members of staff are all truly awesome to work with!
You can find out more about Habitat Japan at http://www.habitatjp.org/index_e.html and http://www.facebook.com/habitatjp.en.

Honduras’ Art for Humanity

By Monika Slupnicki

Originally written for the September 2012 issue of Connect

My name is Monika Slupnicki, and I was a JET in Muroto, Kochi Prefecture from 2010-2012. Around December of 2011, I had to make a decision as to what to do after Japan. Fast forward to August 2012, and I am writing this from Central America, where my husband and I are starting a socio-tourism project for a charity organisation called Art for Humanity in Honduras. And, so far, we’re having the time of our lives!


What will you do after leaving JET?

The concept of volunteering crept up on me slowly. When my Prefectural Advisor left JET in 2011, a spot opened up to become a PA. I applied and got the position. It opened up my eyes as to how involved I could get in the JET community as a volunteer. I remember one occasion where a JET came to me in distress with a grave concern. I did my best to listen and to support them through an incredibly difficult time. It was at that moment that I realised both how rewarding and simple it is to help others.

Prior to becoming a JET, I worked in my native Australia as a registered nurse for thirteen years. It was a fulfilling job because I helped others in need, but my help was always rewarded financially. This left me feeling that something was lacking— that the fulfillment I felt was only partial. This sat at the back of my mind for a number of years. After leaving JET in 2012, I had a choice to make: do I return to Australia to a partially-fulfilling job, or do I take the plunge and volunteer? In making the decision, I didn’t have only myself to consider. I am fortunate enough to be married to a man who was willing to go down the path of volunteering with me.

So, with that, my husband and I narrowed down our search of the myriad of available volunteer positions by selecting a single criterion: we wanted our time and effort to result in self-sufficiency instead of nurturing dependence. If you give a man a fish, he won’t be hungry that day, but if you teach a man to fish, he will never go hungry. We found a number of great opportunities, but the one that really stood out was the position of Activity Directors at Art for Humanity in Honduras (http://www.artforhumanity.org/) . It is this vision that attracted us to the project and, ultimately, committed us to it for two years.

What is ‘Art for Humanity’?

Art for Humanity is a charity organisation, under which The Leadership Centre (TLC) operates. TLC is a three-year residential college which offers a degree in Business Administration. It is situated in a remote mountainous region in central Honduras. TLC provides an all-English college education for young and underprivileged Honduran women. The educational aspect appealed to us as it allows the women to leave the college with the skills and confidence necessary to take up professional roles and/or start their own business ventures. The aim of TLC is for this to have a ripple effect on Honduran society. Art for Humanity believes that:

An educated group of ethical leaders is the best and greatest hope for permanently lifting Honduras out of an endless cycle of poverty. While outside aid in many forms can help individual families or serve as a temporary fix, the best long term solution is to educate capable Hondurans to assume leadership roles.

The college had its inaugural student intake eighteen months ago, and many of the facilities at TLC are still under construction. Some of the completed facilities include the student and volunteer dormitories and kitchens, as well as the eating hall and the classrooms. There are many more projects currently in progress, such as the library and a second volunteer dormitory.

The students are accepted from poor families and attend the college at no cost. Each student has a sponsor who pays a monthly stipend for the girl’s education. To pay for the development of facilities and operating costs, Art for Humanity has established an organic coffee farm on campus which should, in time, cover some of the costs.

My work in Honduras

To provide further revenue for the college, my husband and I have been tasked with starting a socio-tourism project on campus. TLC is a perfect base from which to host both relaxing and adventure activities for visitors. The campus is located along a scenic river surrounded by mountains. It is extremely safe and the weather is very pleasant. The temperatures year-round range from 50-65°F (10-18°C) degrees at night and from 65-85°F (18-30°C) during the daytime. The college is located at 4000 feet above sea level which means that there are no malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the region.

This ideal location allows us to offer our guests activities such as hiking, camping, horseback and motorbike riding, wilderness trips, river swimming, tours of the organic coffee farm, martial arts/self defence classes, Tibetan yoga, meditation, Honduran cooking with wood ovens, Honduran dancing and Spanish language immersion. Of course, for those that want to come and relax, we have plenty of hammocks where visitors can lie down, breathe in pure air and watch the chickens strutting around pretending that they are watchdogs.

The students are an integral part of the socio-tourism project in two main ways. Since the aim of the college is to develop leadership skills in the students, they will assist us in the running of the project. Secondly, we wish to provide a practical platform, in which the students will experience firsthand the running of a business.

The socio-tourism project that we are creating is called Relax for Renewal (http://www.relaxforrenewal.com/home/adventure-activities). We welcome campers but also cater to guests who prefer sleeping indoors. While Relax for Renewal is under construction, guests are sleeping in the volunteer dorms in their own bedrooms. We are currently preparing to build retreat houses and a bar overlooking our own private waterfall for guests. We are very excited to start this next phase of the project.

How you can help

Art for Humanity believes that volunteers gain as they give, learn as they teach and feel more hope as they help.

Here at the TLC we have many ways in which you can help. For those JETs wondering what to do with all that spare nenkyu, how about coming to TLC and having a vacation with us? You’ll get to experience a number of great activities and simultaneously help the poor help themselves. For more information, have a look at our website at http://www.relaxforrenewal.com/home/adventure-activities. All JETs are welcome. Please contact me at the email below for packages and discounts for JETs and their families.

If you are unable to travel to Honduras, then you can volunteer wherever you live. We welcome any volunteers who could help with email projects, website development and research. We also need donations in the form of shoes, clothes, toiletries, sheets, towels and school supplies for the students. Financial support is always gratefully accepted. Art For Humanity is registered with the IRS (USA) as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and hence, your donations are tax deductible. For your donations of cash or gifts, we will gladly provide you with a receipt for tax purposes.

Another great way to help is to expand our network by promoting our fan page on Facebook with your friends and colleagues. We need people to spread the word about us and make people aware of Art for Humanity. To join the Fan Page click this link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Art-For-Humanity/116004348441394. Our fan page allows people to have the latest information on happenings at Art For Humanity and TLC.

If you’re unsure what to do at the end of your JET contract and aren’t quite ready to return home, consider volunteering your time with us! We are always looking for teachers to mentor students and teach a range of subjects such as English, maths, history and biology. We ask that volunteer-teachers stay a minimum of three months to provide continuity for the students. Alternatively, if you feel you’ve had enough of teaching, we are always in need of people who are willing to get their hands dirty. We have many on-going and planned building projects. For those interested in organic coffee farming, we have many opportunities to learn and help with this venture. With this type of volunteering, we welcome you for however long you wish to stay.

If any of these appeals to you, if you have any suggestions or expertise that you think might prove beneficial to this project, or if you’d like more information, please contact me via email at info@relaxforrenewal.com.

Jumping into the World of International Development Work

By Nick Bradford

Originally written for the September 2012 issue of Connect

Biking in Cambodia

Before finishing my time on JET in Kagoshima prefecture in 2011, I already knew that I wanted to continue living abroad. Getting another job teaching English in a different country was an option, but part of me was really drawn to different ways of helping others, which I found in the form of non-profit organizations (NPOs) working in development assistance. Friends and family had worked in the field, but their stories weren’t always encouraging. In fact, there is a great deal of skepticism about the effectiveness of development work, as corruption isn’t uncommon, and many other genuinely well-meaning efforts exacerbate rather than alleviate problems. This means that if you are truly interested in getting involved, it’s crucial to take some time educate yourself on the issues often experienced in this sector:

1. Be aware of the challenges of development assistance. Just as it is important to have hopes and passion, it’s important to try to grow in understanding about the challenges and complexities out there. Don’t forget that there is more to responsible development work than the “warm fuzzy feeling” some may imagine it will bring them. Test your willingness to contribute to positive change by looking into some of the several books out there about “what’s wrong” with development. These theories have been influencing change in the sector for decades. If you feel drawn to a specific issue or region, you should be able to find literature that is focused on what or where you are enthusiastic about. And don’t forget to think critically about the variety of possible motives of both the authors of the existing discourse out there and of the people working with non-profits. One perspective with both facts and anecdotes to illustrate some general challenges can be found in the book “Despite Good Intentions: Why Development Assistance to the Third World Has Failed” by Thomas W. Dichter.

2. Look for transparency and accountability. There are endless NPO websites out there, so when you start focusing in on specific organizations, be sure you are keeping in mind the principles of responsible development. While too numerous to list here, a valuable “starting point” resource I can offer are the charity evaluation guidelines supplied by Charity Navigator, New Philanthropy Capital, and Keystone Accountability: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=847 .

At the heart of these principles are the issues of transparency and accountability. Any organization following responsible standards and practices should be making it easy for the public to find answers to important questions, such as: What kind of data is available about the work the organization has been doing since it began? Does it honestly report its mistakes and shortcomings and take steps to address them? In what ways are its programs sustainable? These are a few of many questions you absolutely should be finding answers available for. If there is a lack of clear transparency about any and all relevant information, this is a serious problem. Trustworthy organizations will be passionate about meeting or exceeding the best practices in the sector. In correspondence or eventually an interview with a prospective non-profit, consider respectfully asking questions about information that doesn’t seem readily available from your initial research. Other widely recognized websites that can be very helpful include the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving website (http://www.bbb.org/us/charity/), the expert-supported critical evaluation site called Givewell (http://www.givewell.org/), and the non-profit organization database Guidestar (http://www.guidestar.org/).

3. Be flexible and proactive. This is in addition to the flexibility you likely already have when it comes to adjusting to a new environment. If you have no background in your field of interest, don’t be surprised if it’s hard to immediately find reliable organizations offering an ideal position. To the contrary, positions defined by comfy salaries, short-term volunteering, and an openness to those with little experience, may be red flags warning you to reassess the organization you applied to. Be open to unpaid work/long-term volunteering, and when you do find a position where you can gain experience, take initiative to learn as much as you can and show you are dedicated. Long-term patience and perseverance is needed to be a part of the change you want to see.

In my case, after doing my own research, I still believed in the possibility of finding a position in which I could help realise a meaningful and positive change. The principles referenced above were instrumental in leading me to my current position with a non-profit organization called PEPY, which operates in the Siem Reap province of Cambodia and has historically had a very close relationship with JET program participants. PEPY offers up the following resource: the principles reflected in the organization checklists at Voluntourism101: http://voluntourism101.com/guide. If you are interested in PEPY, you can contact the nation-wide group of JETs interested in learning about and supporting PEPY at ajetsig@pepyride.org or you can sign-up for PEPY’s newsletter at www.pepycambodia.org .

Mathew Cook, AJET Chair, on the One Year Anniversary of the Tohoku Disasters


It’s hard to believe it’s been one year since that tragic day, when all our lives changed and all of us saw Japan affected in a way we never imagined.  Here in Osaka, when the world slowly started swaying, I had no idea how coming months would shape my communities’ sense of togetherness and responsibility to helping those who needed our help in Tohoku.

For those of us scattered around the country, I imagine we all spent similar, painful minutes watching the same horrific scenes unfold online and on television.  Nightmareish scenes of the ocean sweeping through cities, taking homes and cars, and most tragically, lives with them.  Not just the lives of the helpless victims’, but the lives of all their friends and family, which would never again be the same.

When the waters receded and we all began to slowly come out of our initial shock, we began to recognize the magnitude of this tragedy and most of us started thinking the same thing: “How can we help?”

Unfortunately, in the first few days and weeks, there weren’t many options unless you were a first responder or medical professional.  Elections had just finished for AJET and I was the soon-to-be Chair, so I was able to help in a variety of information gathering and resource providing efforts that were done under the various AJET umbrellas.  Members of last year’s council were working around the clock to help different groups and set up ways to keep the JET community informed and up-to-date on what could be done.  I was proud to assist them with those efforts and do what little I could in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

At the end of the first week after the Earthquake, local prefectural governments across the country were still waiting and had little to no options on how to get relief and supplies to the affected regions.  At that point, I couldn’t stand by any longer or wait another day to start actively helping somehow.

I quickly found out that some groups like 2nd Harvest Japan, Peace Boat, and Kozmoz International were pushing forward and driving supplies to the affected areas, despite the government’s instructions and statements against it.  Reports were pouring in, at this point, on the foreign news and online about dire conditions.  People without clothes, babies without diapers, a lack of sanitary supplies and more.  Finding this out, and hearing these reports, I was determined to get aid and supplies there.

I went to my school, and lobbied teachers and my principal to do a drive of supplies and food for the survivors.  It took a lot of convincing, because of the circumstances at the time.  They were being told one thing by the media and by the city’s spokespeople, and yet another story by me.  I backed up my points and told them that I’d take on the full responsibility for whatever happened.  When I finally had everyone on the same page, it was contingent on the program being “the ALTs project”, to protect the school, and I was fine with that.

In the following few days I was overcome by everyone in our communities generosity.  These people were all just waiting for a chance to do something to help.  Turns out, they felt just as helpless as the rest of us that previous week.  Before I knew it, the PTA, our students, and our teachers brought armful after armful of their own contributions.

At the time, we were taking anything we could get our hands on to help.  Food, clothing, eating utensils, bathroom supplies, paper, batteries, gas…..  Literally: ANYTHING.  It took us hours and hours to categorize the items and box them and mark our total inventory on the boxes and on paper.  I gave a call to my friend, Barry Wyatt at Kozmoz International in Kyoto prefecture and he swooped in with his team with a van and a 2 tonne moving truck that we stacked to the top.

I was determined to see this effort through, and despite the fears of radiation exposure and other things on the news, I climbed aboard with Barry and a few others on our way to Ishinomaki city in Miyagi prefecture.  It took all day and overnight, but those hours did nothing to prepare us for what we’d see.  Peace Boat had volunteers in the field doing clean up and by the time we’d arrived, the volunteers were coming home to their “tent city” at a local university campus where they’d set up shop next to a field house they had converted to a warehouse for supplies to be distributed.  This was “base camp” right next to ground zero for the tsunami.

As we unloaded, I was overcome with emotion looking at these brave souls who had traveled here out of a sense of responsibility and desire to help their fellow man in a time of need.  Without any comforts or even running water, they were bearing the elements night after night, sleeping in tents and grueling in labor all day long at ground zero.  I was instantly struck with guilt that I’d just come here and drop off these trucks filled with supplies, only to turn around and go home.  After talking with some of the leaders of these volunteers, they agreed that I could stay and help them if I wished.

The next couple couple days were days I will never forget.  I can’t even begin to tell you the devastation that I saw, the destruction of a city, the ruins left behind.  But all of those scenes in my mind are standing side-by-side with my personal hope for mankind.  People helping each other.  Grateful citizens arms outstrectched in thanks.  People who were so struck with grief and anguish….And yet still at the same time insisting that we share in what little food they had with those of us there helping.  I saw compassion of the human spirit.  Heard stories that still make me want to cry.  But most importantly, I realized that we’re all part of the same community.  Even though I was “foreign” to these people, during those days there were no “foreigners”.  There were no outsiders.  There was only us, and we were all part of the great community that is mankind.

I left Ishinomaki feeling a great sense of irony.  I had traveled so far to give these people something.  But really, I was leaving with something much greater.  I was leaving with a sense of what this world truly needs.  Each other.

Without each other, we are nothing.  A man that stands alone can never accomplish or be the things that dreams are made of without his fellow man.  No matter where you are, or who your community is, I urge you to remember that we, as individuals, can only be as good as what we make of our communities.  That community may be where you live, it may be your country, or it may just be a group of like-minded individuals sharing a hobby.

I dedicated this year to AJET.  Doing my best to make more opportunities for all of you, so that you, in turn, could do more to make life better for others in your communities.

On this eve of the one year memorial of the daishinsai disasters, I challenge you to make the lives of those around you richer and fuller, by whatever means you can, big or small.

I challenge you again, with the same words I used in my election campaign, one year ago this month: 
Let this be the year that we say: We can do more.  We can help more.  We can be MORE.

Connect with you again soon,

Matthew Cook
AJET Chairman