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Campus Now

Early Spring Issue (Mar.)

Messages to Their Second Century

I want the students to strengthen their “imagination” for issues in the world

Ms. Yukie Osa
Non-profit organization, Executive Director, Association for Aid and Relief (AAR)

Ms. Osa, Director of the “Association for Aid and Relief,” is involved with the international assistance activities such as emergency relief and landmine action. We interviewed her how she was involved with the current work, her thoughts on the activities, and advice to the students.

It all began from the discrimination I experienced when I was studying abroad

-- “Please tell us about the background of the “Association for Aid and Relief (AAR)”

During the late 1970's, a mass refugees called the “boat people” emigrated from the three Indochina countries (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). The Japanese government was reluctant to receive those refugees, and the world made accusations that “Japanese are cold to refugees.” Echoing to this, the late Yukika Soma, daughter of a renowned Japanese liberal politician Yukio Ozaki, set up the “Association for Aid and Relief for Indochina” in 1979 based on the Japanese traditional spirit of good-will: “We should help each other whenever any of us is in trouble.” Mrs. Soma's idea was not only to provide assistance to refugees but also to open the mindset of Japanese people to the world through these activities. In 1984, the organization expanded its activities to Africa and changed its name to “Association for Aid and Relief.”

-- Please explain AAR's specific activities.

The AAR's activities are based on five pillars: “Emergency assistance” at the time of disaster and conflicts, “Assistance to persons with disabilities” including landmine victims, “Mine action” such as mine-risk education, “Infectious disease control” against HIV and Malaria, and “Advocacy” such as hosting events and study tours.

The AAR is a non-religious and non-political group, and its funding comes from public resources such as government and the United Nations, donation from individuals and organizations, and profits from charity events.

-- How were you involved with the international assistance activities in the first place?

My awareness was raised when I was studying in the U.S. as an exchange student for a year. More than 90% of the students at the college where I studied were Caucasian. Because of the discrimination towards black students and Asian foreign students, I had a lot of bad experiences. I came back to Japan with anger, thinking “what a horrible country the U.S. is.” However, I was shocked again, as I realized that different types of discrimination towards foreign residents and the Ainu people exist also in Japan, just like the U.S. Based on these experiences, I became interested in the ethnic issues and studied the indigenous population at the graduate school. After graduation, I was introduced to AAR by chance and began working there. To me, the refugee issues were ethnic issues in a wide context.

-- What drives you to be engaged with your work for such a long time?

I am not working to “help people.” I have a simple question; “we are the same human beings who are born in the same era. But why is there such a gap among us?” I believe I am working to close the gap.

I had been working on the landmine actions and the activities to eliminate landmines as a part of the ICBL, because we can surely fill in that gap. Our work is as if scattering water on a desert; we cannot see the results immediately. However, if we remove one landmine, someone can avoid stepping on it. In other words, removing a landmine will surely save someone's legs, feet, and lives. This is one of the most assured ways to assist people. Therefore, we began our landmine actions in the mid 1990s. It is still one of the main activities of the AAR.

I feel guilty more often than satisfaction.

-- When do you feel satisfaction with your work?

Of course, there are many moments when I feel satisfaction with my work. However, I feel guilty more often than satisfaction. Through work, I could meet with people with the same aspirations and have wonderful experiences. However, in reality, there are absolutely more things that “I could not do” than “I did.” Fifteen years ago during the Bosnian War, when the genocide (a systematic destruction of a specific racial or ethnic group) happened in Srebrenica, I was working in the area nearby. However, I could not do anything. Currently I am working both as a practitioner of NGO and a professor. I am afraid that cases like Srebrenica will be forgotten by the people if someone does not continue research on those people who were killed by the genocide. With this in mind, I will continue working on both practical work at NGO and research.

There are many opportunities for international assistance around you.

-- What is your advice to the students who are willing to work in the field of international assistance?

First of all, they should study English hard. This is imperative. Also, from my own experience, I would suggest the students to first have corporate working experiences and learn social rules. Just like other jobs, the people who work in the field of international assistance are required to have respect for the basic rule of society. Those people who cannot have respect for these rules will fail to establish good relationships with other people.

I also would like to encourage students even if they fail to get a job they wanted. Working overseas is not the only form of international assistance. Working in the other environments in Japan and paying tax, donating the salary, and having interest in the international assistance is also a very important way of contributing to international assistance. Another pathway is to work at a corporation which is focusing on social contribution activities. If the corporation that you work for does not carry out such activities, you may be able to suggest them to your supervisors. There are so many things around you to allow you to be involved with the international assistance.

-- Finally, please give a message to the University and the parents who are bringing up the students

There is a saying; “Indifference kills people in the long run, just like a bullet.” One of the causes of indifference is the lack of imagination. Being able to imagine, “if my family or my girl (or boy) friend is there.,” while watching the overseas cases on the news, is the first step of action. Students should be equipped with this ability through not only readings but also experiences overseas. I would like to ask the University to offer such opportunities. I also would like to ask the parents to support their children, with special precaution to their safety, if they expressed their desire to go abroad.

Ms. Yukie Osa
Non-profit organization, Executive Director, Association for Aid and Relief (AAR)

Ms. Osa was born in Tokyo in 1963 and was raised in Ibaraki. She graduated from Department of Political Science, School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, and completed her study at the Graduate School of Political Science. While working at a foreign company, she began working at AAR as a volunteer in 1990 and became a full-time staff in 1991. She worked as a Representative of the former Yugoslavian office, Vice-President/Assistant Director, and President/Director (2000-2003). In those years, she was involved with emergency humanitarian assistance, landmine actions, and activities of the International Campaigns to Ban Landmines (ICBL). In 2007, she completed the doctoral program on “Human Security” at Graduate School of Art and Sciences, Tokyo University (received Ph.D degree). In July 2008, she took up the position as the Executive Director of AAR. She is also the professor of a graduate school of Rikkyo University since April 2009. She is the author of the “Srebrenica - discussion about genocide” (Toshindo).