Avni Rajpal: Volunteering with Niconico Tomato

Like many KCJS students before me, I volunteered with Niconico Tomato at Kyoto University Hospital for my CIP. I spent time making artsy decorations and doing activities with the children and their parents. Having read a bunch of previous students’ CIP blogs I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was going into, but the experience surprised me in a number of wonderful ways.

I was initially struck by the unique linguistic challenge that comes with volunteering to help kids alongside a group of おばあちゃん (grandmotherly older women) – switching rapidly between casual and formal speech. I had gotten used to a です/ます(formal) in the classroom and short form with my host family kind of lifestyle, and I greatly struggled with the fact that in the real world things aren’t quite so smooth. For weeks I lived in fear of offending one of the volunteers, or potentially addressing a baby in 敬語 (honorific speech). Through this volunteer experience, I was able to practice and improve my speaking to be appropriate to the situation and involved.

Another thing that really blew me away was the painstaking detail in in all the craftwork. For Halloween and Christmas parties for example, every card was made incredibly patiently with a number of different details carefully assembled together to create something beautiful, colorful and fun. Maeguchi Sensei told me that everything was taken care to be absolutely perfect because for the kids, every event could potentially be their last. This really touched me and made me more truly appreciate the happy environment that niconico Tomato creates for chronically ill children and their families in an incredibly tough situation.

The volunteers were kind and helpful, and though I was shy at first I began to feel like a part of the group with time. I had a lot of fun with the kids, because sometimes even when a group of lovely volunteers dedicates their day to planning a new and exciting activity, everyone just wants to play with blocks in the playroom. I might not have made lifelong connections through this experience but I’m glad I was able to meet the people I did and see the world of good that well organized volunteering can do.

2 thoughts on “Avni Rajpal: Volunteering with Niconico Tomato

  1. Wow, I am blown away by your CIP. Just on the level of practicing Japanese, constantly switching between formal and informal speech patterns with ease is one of the most challenging parts of the language. Seeing Japanese people do it with such ease and being able to speak like that is one of my goals. On another level, the relationships that you built and also the people whose lives you got to be a part of sounds amazing. Working with those kids and their families must have been an experience you’ll never forget.

    • It was a really fun experience! The kids as well as the volunteers were all so lovely. Though I do think it would have been nice to have a CIP which involved people my own age – as it is easier to make friends and conversation is more natural, I definitely enjoyed the challenge.