Did you ever go camping when you were young? Many of us have fond memories of playing all day in forests and rivers, and cooking meals over an open fire. Lulled to sleep at night by chirping insects and rustling leaves, then woken at daybreak by a chorus of birdsong. Experiences in the great outdoors have an immeasurable impact on our lives, helping form who we are today.
Experiences such as these are out of reach for some 30,000 children who live in welfare facilities around Japan. Unable to reside with their parents for a variety of reasons, many miss out on the joys of youth that are often taken for granted.
In 2003, American Dave Paddock founded Tokyo based company English Adventure, offering the classic American summer camp experience to children living in Japan. In late 2010, Paddock and his colleague Jeff Jensen began looking for ways to give back to Japan in appreciation for their growing success. They contacted NPO Living Dreams, an organization dedicated to empowering children living in Japanese children’s welfare institutions, sometimes called orphanages in English. In early 2011 English Adventure and Living Dreams partnered to invite abused, neglected, and orphaned children to English Adventure’s camps free of charge.
Initially centered on children in the Greater Tokyo area, the project expanded after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tohoku region. English Adventure and Living Dreams moved quickly to bring children from some of the worst affected areas to camp in August 2011, along with the Tokyo and Yokohama children invited before March 11.
Seeing powerful effects at that first camp, the team understood the need for a long-term effort to support as many of these traumatized and at-risk children as possible. NPO Mirai no Mori was founded to ensure the continuity and effectiveness of this much-needed work. Today, Mirai no Mori remains active in both the Kanto and Tohoku regions.
Mirai no Mori has so far hosted 408 such children on its action packed five-day camps. Bilingual or native English speaking staff facilitate positive change in the participants, drawing on their infinite potential through three core elements of ‘Outdoor Adventure’, ‘Real life English’, and ‘Ongoing Mentoring’ to help create brighter paths to their future.
This year 25 children from welfare facilities will spend five days at camp at a time, working with their teammates to overcome challenges and creating strong and lasting bonds with staff and fellow campers. The final activity planned for this year’s camp is a river rafting adventure. Conducted just once in 2012, the rafting experience left a remarkable impact on the children, however it was discontinued due to funding difficulties.
The river rafting experience begins with a mix of unease and excitement at facing the rushing and roaring river to the goal 5km downstream. Children work together, paddling and balancing the raft through the rapids. The teamwork required to control the speed and direction of the rafts draws on communication skills and teamwork nurtured during the course of camp, creating a huge sense of achievement and lasting bonds upon reaching the goal.
A total of 1 million yen will enable all children at Mirai no Mori camp this summer to experience the thrills of rafting, giving them the courage to steer their lives in a better direction. You can get involved by making a donation via their special online crowdfunding campaign at readyfor.jp/projects/mirai-no-mori_rafting (Japanese only) or by contacting them at [email protected] for details of offline donations. Your support can contribute to a brighter future for many of these children.