Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
- Giving Japanese children fun opportunities to interact with foreigners -
In Close Up this month we introduce the NPO Kids International Village (KIV). KIV coordinates the Kids English Village, an outdoor international exchange and English conversation event which allows Japanese children the chance to interact with foreigners in four prefectural parks in the Kanto region, for example, Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. For a nominal charge the organization offers children of any family the opportunity to experience international exchange and English conversation that are unlike schools or typical English classes. In May 2020, KIV changed from a civil volunteer organization to a non-profit organization and launched new initiatives, such as the Online Kids English Conversation Program. We spoke about KIV activities with Mr. Harunobu Ariga, a representative of the organization who wishes to help children enrich their lives by socializing with people from all over the world.
Please tell us what led to the establishment of the organization.
It all began in 2015 on Cebu Island in the Philippines where I was studying English and encountered a Japanese NPO offering music instruction to children, and which I subsequently joined as a staff member. The smiles of the children stole my heart and so filled me with happiness that I was inspired to do something for children some day in the future. Later, while traveling in several countries for almost one year, I reconfirmed that English was the common international language and noticed that people in many countries communicated freely in the language without much concern about pronunciation or grammar. On the other hand, among the Japanese I encountered along the way were more than a few that could not, or would not, enter into conversation with foreigners. Familiar with this Japanese attitude, it spurred me to try to create an environment where Japanese people, from the time they are young children, could feel at ease and get acquainted with foreigners. I immediately began preparations upon my return to Japan and in November 2017 founded a civil volunteer organization, and in February 2018 the first outdoor English conversation event, Kids English Village, was held in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. The organization was granted NPO status in May 2020 and our activities have continued to the present.
Could you tell us more about the Kids English Village?
The Kids English Village is KIV's main activity and currently two events per month are held in parks located in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama. It costs 1500 yen to join the event. The children participating in the English Village enjoy singing, dancing, games, talking, high fiving, etc. with the foreigner volunteers, known as International Friends (IF). We place importance on making direct eye contact when conversing. Some of the children love interacting in English, others know only simple greetings, and still others know absolutely nothing about English but are overjoyed to make friends with foreigners. The children truly enjoy the event. Some never let go of the IF's hand, and some children approach us many times after the event to say, "See you!". We always try to incorporate English expressions when playing games and parents frequently say that at home their child practices English expressions they have just learned, for example "turn on" and "turn off" while completing the actions with lights in the house.
Tell us about the foreigners who volunteer as International Friends (IF)?
A variety of people volunteer in response to Facebook and Instagram invitations, people working for Japanese companies, those studying in Japanese language academies, and more. It seems they are interested in the English Village because though they live in Japan, they don't get many opportunities to speak with Japanese people, much less with Japanese children. They come from various countries---United States, Great Britain, France, the Philippines, even Afghanistan, Iraq, Mauritius, etc.---in other words people from countries there is little chance for ordinary Japanese to meet. There are many whose native language is not English, but they are still welcome because the activity's goal is for children to have the chance to interact in English, the international common language of the world. In addition, before the Corona pandemic we also accepted tourists through the Airbnb platform. Many of them enjoyed volunteering as a local cultural experience during their stay in Japan and we hope to resume accepting them when the pandemic is over.
The Kids English Village was suspended due to the novel corona virus, was it not?
The Kids English Village is a contact program, that is, physical contact in the form of hugs and high fives play an important part, and when restrictions were imposed it distressed us as we considered how to continue with the program now and into the future. Though in the middle of a pandemic, we hope very much that the children maintain ties with people from around the world. Examining the possible activities we could offer the children, we undertook several trials using Zoom. One is the Online Kids English Village where a child at home can interact with foreigners from around the world, and another is the Kids International Exchange Meeting in which a child in Japan can converse in English with children from around the world. These trials created opportunities which permitted Japanese children to interact with people living in different countries and opened new connections that we never imagined before coronavirus. The Kids English Village held in parks resumed in September with reduced numbers, from 35 participants before the pandemic to the current 20 participants, taking advantage of the immense outdoor space available to us while following precautions against the virus.
Hasn't there been a new online English conversation program for children launched?
The online English conversation program, AaasoBo!, was launched in October 2020 with the slogan, "Let's play with our foreign brothers and sisters!". A distinctive feature of AaasoBo! is the goal to have fun in English rather than learn it. The instructors have experience in language academies abroad or in online English conversation classes of large academies in Japan, but for AaasoBo! they treat the children as if they were their big brother or sister from anywhere in the world. We offer this program at a very affordable price and is also combined with a free trial. Children who know nothing in English can also participate and we invite them to try.
Please tell us about any activities planned for the future.
Lately, tickets for the Kids English Village were quickly sold out, which greatly pleased us, but also left us sad knowing that children unable to get tickets could not experience the English Village. Though one of our goals is for KIV to organize the Kids English Village in all prefectures, it cannot be denied that we lack personnel as we only have 10 volunteer staff who are also employed elsewhere. In the future we would like to establish a Monthly Supporter System to receive charitable financial support so that an enduring and stable administration can be formed by a permanent staff dedicated to creating an environment where Japanese children can easily interact with foreigners. In the coming new year and into the future we plan to offer different programs, such as the Kids After School English Conversation Program so that children can play with foreigners after school, and the Angel International Exchange Program offering free conversational English and international exchange gatherings targeting children from families having modest incomes. KIV aspires to continue its activities long into the future so as to create a society in which all children can enjoy an environment where they can easily meet and interact with foreigners whenever they wish.