For my CIP, I volunteer at a children’s kitchen（子供食堂） every Thursday. The organization is located on the second floor of a church in Higashi Kujo, and caters mainly to families with young children. The objective of the kitchen is to build a community, and I definitely felt this while working alongside the other volunteers. Most of the other volunteers were from Kyoto, and were generally college-aged. Every week we worked on a variety of different tasks including serving food, cleaning and putting away dishes, and engaging in conversations with the other volunteers. It was overwhelming at first, since I was largely unfamiliar with some of the vocabulary used, but little by little I found myself improving and becoming closer with the regular volunteers.
One of the difficulties of the Shokudo was trying to communicate when I didn’t understand instructions, since everyone was already familiar with each other and spoke very quickly in Kansai-ben. However, the volunteers were always patient with me when I didn’t understand something, and would take the time to explain it to me and make sure I understood. I also observed how friendly and accepting they were of me and the other KCJS volunteers, as well as new members who arrived at the Shokudo. Because of this welcoming atmosphere, we were always able to joke around when the kitchen wasn’t too busy and learn a lot about Japanese culture. They even taught us some useful phrases in Kansai-ben, and taught us some popular children’s games. As most of the volunteers didn’t speak a lot of English, Japanese was often the only way of communication. Because of this I was forced out of my comfort zone while trying to communicate. This was a fantastic chance to build up my own confidence and practice speaking casually with the other students my age while learning new grammar and vocabulary. Out of pure coincidence, I was even able to meet an alumna of my home college who is now living in Kyoto! I am thankful for the opportunity to volunteer at the Kodomo Shokudo and engage with the community.