Meg Beneville: Niko-Toma Volunteer Program

Meg Beneville:
Niko-Toma Volunteer Program at Kyoto University Hospital

For my Community Involvement Project, I’ve been volunteering once a week at Kyoto University Hospital through a program called “Niko-Toma”. “Niko-Toma” is a wonderful organization that aims that brighten the lives of children in the hospital, most of whom have serious illnesses and spend long periods of time there.
Niko-Toma plans many fun events for the children, such as holiday parties. My volunteer duties have been extremely varied so far. Many times I help out in the office with the other volunteers, sorting through supplies for future events, folding newsletters or making ornately decorated cards. The other volunteers are most middle-aged Japanese women, who are very warm and welcoming, and chat with me in Japanese while we work. It’s great language practice, and very satisfying to feel like I’ve become a part of the group.
Aside from helping out in the office, I’ve also had some great opportunities to interact with the kids. The Halloween party was absolutely adorable- so many cute kids in costumes, and many parents who were delighted to have such a great photo op. One of the older patients there was a 17 year old girl who I had a fun time talking to. We took a picture together on her phone and exchanged email addresses so that she could send it to me, and we’ve become “internet penpals” since then. She’s very creative and funny, and I hope talking to me is an entertaining distraction that helps to break up the monotony of her hospital stays. I’ve been back to visit her in the hospital and we have fun talking in person as well, although I had to wear a mask since she has a compromised immune system, and this made it more difficult than usual to understand and speak Japanese.
All in all, I’m very happy with my experience at “Niko-Toma”. It’s been very rewarding so far, and I hope my volunteer efforts are making a difference to the kids in the hospital.

4 thoughts on “Meg Beneville: Niko-Toma Volunteer Program

  1. ニコトマではKCJSでは出会えない人たちと出会い、交流できたようですね。ポストを読んでいると、ベンビルさんがやさしい気持ちでニコトマに参加していた様子がよくわかりました。17才の患者さんとはこれからも「文通」を続けるのですか。アメリカー日本で交流が深まるといいですね。

    • コメントをして、ありがとうございました。はい、17才の患者さんと文通を続けるつもりです。とてもやさしい人だから、本当に楽しいです。

  2. This sounds like such a great program! I had been seriously considering using it as my CIP when I heard about it from Nishimata Sensei, so I’m glad I at least got to get a sense for what it was like vicariously through your blog post. It sounds like you were able to do a good range of things to help the program. What was it like working in a Japanese office-like setting? I was also touched by what you wrote about the young woman you met. Is it common for people to be hospitalized for weak immune systems here? Sorry for the onslaught of questions! ごくろうさまでした!;)

    • Adri,
      Thanks for the comment! Niko-toma is definitely a great program, and I would recommend it if you’re thinking of a different CIP for next semester. Let me know if you have any other questions!

      As for what it’s like to work in a Japanese office-like setting…hmm,I’m not really sure if my experience was typical or not? It was basically a bunch of middle aged Japanese ladies who sat around chatting while we made cards or organized things for later events. They were very friendly and warm, and although I tried to stick with teinei kotoba, they spoke fairly casually to me so sometimes I slipped.

      The girl I became friends with wasn’t hospitalized for a weak immune system, that’s just one of the many terrible side effects of chemo treatment for cancer, unfortunately. But I’m really happy to have met her and hope to continue sending emails and occasionally visiting next semester!