The New Year 2009 is upon us, and already my thoughts are turning to our magnificent new CUBE building and all of you who will be joining us in April. In February, I will be returning to Hue in Vietnam with my colleague, Chris. We will be going as volunteers, running a workshop for students training to be English teachers. I’m really looking forward to it. If time allows, I’d also like to return to Laos in March with our voluntary group, Teachers Helping Teachers. Laos is much poorer than Vietnam, and needs all the help we can give it. The group of university students I met there the last time made me realize the importance of education in the development of a country.
Today I thought I’d introduce another voluntary group that I’m a member of. On January 11th, the Kyoto Association of Host Families (or KAHF) held its annual New Year’s Party and bazaar at the Kyoto International Community House. (The Kyoto International Community House opened in 1989. It aims to provide ‘a space for interaction and cross-cultural communication between the citizens of Kyoto City and people of other cultures. It is a place where people can come together, discuss various ideas, and learn more about each other.’)
Access http://www.kcif.or.jp/ for further information.
KAHF http://www.geocities.jp/kahfjp/ is an association of Japanese host families who look after international students studying in Kyoto. It was established in March 1984, and since then about 400 host families have taken care of around 1400 international students. The typical international student is someone doing postgraduate research at Kyoto University, as well as at private universities with graduate schools such as Ritsumeikan University, etc. Here is a picture of Fara, who my family assists right now:
Can you guess where she is from? Well, she is from Madagascar, a large island off the coast of Africa. Fara tells me that her ancestors probably sailed from Indonesia, which is why she might look more ‘Asian’ than ‘African’ to you! But of course these are stereotypes: our identity is whatever we decide we are.
So what kind of activities are there? Well, as a member of one of the host families, and as a former international student myself, I’ve gone with the students and picked persimmons off the trees in autumn, pulled up sweet potatoes in slightly warmer weather, and dug up bamboo shoots in the spring. In January, there is always a dance or artistic performance. One year, there was an amazing Taiwanese dance performed by indigenous people. This year, it looked like it was an Indonesian dance. I was just beginning to enjoy it when I was asked to get ready for my own part.
So why am I not sure what kind of dance it was? Well, actually this year it was my turn to appear on stage. I was the one with the microphone who called out the numbers of the prize winners for the raffle. We also had all the children come up on stage to collect gifts. There were children from Japan, as well as China, Taiwan, Cameroon, and Nepal. Then when we announced the adult prizewinners, there were people from other corners of the globe. I was introduced to students from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, the Philippines, Iran and more who came up on stage to collect their prizes. It was truly in the spirit of the International Community House and KAHF. Here are two more international residents of Kansai:
On the left of the photo is a Bulgarian gentleman, Dr. Koutsaroff, who works as a chief researcher at Murata Manufacturing in Kyoto. The Chinese lady he is with on the right is actually one of my old students! I was so happy to meet her again.
I’ve learnt a lot about Japanese culture and international cooperation fro KAHF. For example, besides the individual exchange between families and students, KAHF organizes events such as hiking in spring, a Gion Festival ‘Hoko tour’, a barbecue party in autumn and the New Year Party and bazaar mentioned above. KAHF even holds events such as the “Photo Exhibition for the Victims of the Pakistan Earthquake” to collect money for volunteer work carried out by international students returning to Pakistan (e.g. rebuilding schools).
I hope you are able to get involved in lots of interesting and meaningful activities this year. Enjoy the rest of your high school life!