The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

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Top place winner of the Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center (WAVOC) volunteer fair through educational assistance to Vietnam elementary schools

Ms. Noriko Yamaguchi

"'We don't need volunteers anymore (as a form of assistance). We can walk on our own, now.' It's with the goal of hearing these words in mind that we should continue deploying volunteers. I'd like to widen the sphere of volunteering," said Ms. Yamaguchi, who took top place at the 2009 WAVOC Volunteer Fair. She received rave reviews from both students and participants for her presentation expressing the idea that "the purpose of volunteering should be the introduction of self-reliance into a community to the point where that community actually rids itself of volunteers (as a form of assistance)."

The "Japan-Vietnam Student Exchange Project" that Ms. Yamaguchi leads is a volunteer group which holds cultural exchange meetings and works to expand scholarship support for Phuoc Thanh Elementary School in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The group purchases craftwork particular to Vietnam, and then sells it at Japanese flea markets and other locations. They then return the proceeds to Phuoc Thanh Elementary School. "The project is a joint operation held in collaboration with local college students. There are a number of instances when misunderstandings and mistakes crop up in Vietnam due to communication in English and Vietnamese, languages we aren't really used to."

Lack of support, dependence on support, one-shot benefit activities, continuity... "Despite believing the volunteer activities to be meaningful and productive, out on the field I keep confronting concerns such as 'what does it mean to be a volunteer?' and 'what is the purpose of this support?'" In this last presentation, Ms. Yamaguchi openly related what she felt as she continued her activities as a volunteer.

"Through almost nightly chats, training camps together, and preparing our presentations, I grew to know the other members of the project as well as their beliefs. In other words, the bonds between us and my own thoughts towards our activities became stronger and deeper. It was very worthwhile." Ms. Yamaguchi and the other members' activities are a constant series internal questioning, followed by conclusions.

"What's the 'significance' of volunteering? I'm still looking for an answer to that. However, I think that the ideal type of volunteering involves determining a final goal and continuing to work towards it responsibly, and finally creating a situation where volunteers are no longer necessary." Ms. Yamaguchi's accumulation of such small conclusions will surely have a big impact on both Japan and Vietnam.

(Offered by WASEDA WEEKLY)

Ms. Noriko Yamaguchi

Born in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1988. Graduated from Chikushigaoka High School, and is currently a third year student in the School of Law and a part of the seminar led by Ms. Mariko Kawano. She joined the Japan-Vietnam Student Exchange Project in 2006 and became a representative in September 2008. This project provides educational assistance by purchasing Vietnamese craftwork, selling it in Japan, then giving the proceeds to Vietnamese elementary schools. Ms. Yamaguchi took top place at the fair sponsored by the Hirayama Ikuo Volunteer Center (WAVOC), where people introduced their volunteer activities. Her hobbies include travel.