I think the biggest difference I’ve noticed between volunteering in America and volunteering in Japan is definitely the sense of responsibility that each volunteer has towards the group. I think that sometimes, in America, especially within the college community, people just choose to join volunteer groups at random, coming and going at will. However, at Nico Toma, it seems that most of the volunteers at Nico Toma have had personal experiences related to the Kyoto University pediatrics ward. In any case, it is clear that, while the atmosphere may be very cheerful and light, they are all very devoted to this particular group. Though this may just be a result of the nature of the volunteer group, I feel that Japanese volunteers are much more dedicated to their tasks.
I’ve also noticed that the volunteers at Nico Toma are very particular about small details. Each detail of the project at hand is discussed by the group, down to the color and thickness of the pipe cleaners used to make the handles for the tiny bags that will hold candy to be distributed at the children’s art exhibition. While in America, these details might be overlooked and considered irrelevant, I found it refreshing and fun to work on simple things so thoroughly, since our hard work made the final products something that we could all be proud of. Furthermore, I found it interesting that this level of attention to detail was a given in any project, be it pricing used goods for the bazaar, or coloring next month’s calendar, or hanging up seasonal decorations in the children’s ward.
Overall, while I may not have necessarily been accepted as a fully fledged member of the group, I did enjoy my time at Nico Toma as much for the insight into Japanese culture as for the empathy for and awareness of these children’s situations that I feel I’ve gained, even if only a little. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I hope that I was able to help these children even if it was in a small, indirect way. Thank you, Nico Toma!
Besides discussing about the project with other volunteers, do you hangout with them, like going to dinner, go to events?
Unfortunately, I didn’t meet with the other volunteers outside of Nico Toma. To be honest, it was sometimes hard to know what to talk about when I was around them, since the volunteers are mostly middle-aged.
Why did you feel like you were still not a member of the community yet? How long do you think it would take to fully integrate yourself into this group/other Japanese organisations?
Firstly, I think that in order to be considered a fully-fledged member of the group, I would have had to have gone around three times a week instead of just one. Since I was only able to go once a week for a limited amount of time, I think it was hard to get to know the other volunteers, and I’m sure it was difficult for them to get to know me and distinguish me from among the other volunteers. Also, because there was an age gap between myself and the other volunteers, it was a bit difficult to connect with them on subjects that weren’t related to Nico Toma.
Do you feel that this “paying attention to fine details,” even details that Americans might have seen as trivial or irrelevant, is something that you can take back to America and apply to your studies or work?
On a personal level, I’d like to carry this mindset over into my part-time retail job at home. Though volunteer work and my part-time job don’t necessarily have much to do with one another, I think that customers are able to appreciate small details in the same way that the hospitalized children appreciate the finer points of Nico Toma’s work. When I go back home, I feel that I’ll be more aware of these details both when I’m working and in everyday life.