Leadership #3 – Work in group experience

One of the occasions when I was proud to be in a team was when we organized a Festival called Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival) in Brazil.

Every year in São Paulo the Association of Brazilian students in Japan (Associação de ex-bolsistas – Asebex) organizes a course for the the students who are going to come to Japan. The course lasts for about one month and in the course we learn the basic of the language, culture and manners. Many of the students who go to Japan are Nikkei, that is, of Japanese origin, so maybe the main purpose of the course is so that all the students who are going to Japan in that year know each other and connect by the activities. The name of this course is Koshukai and usually 100~150 students join every year.

Usually the the last activity of the Koushokai training is to organize a festival. Because it occured during summer in Brazil. it was called Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival). Usually this Festival is organized so people at Koshukai can work in group and to collect money for the students who are going to Japan. Usually this money is reserved for the students who suffer accidents. For example, once it was used to pay for the expenses of a Brazilian student who was run over by a car. But, if the money is not used after a year, we use it for a trip with everyone in Japan.

However, on that Koshukai, the president of Asebex, Martino Musumeci, told us that in the two previous years the organization of the event caused serious (unfriendly ) disagreements between the students because of the pressure to organize such a big event. This invalidates the main point of Koshukai, which is the students to meet each other. Because of that, Martino asked us if instead of organizing the festival we would not prefer to organize a charity effort to one of the Japanese charities in São Paulo.

  • Ikoi no sono (the garden of rest)
    • In 1911 a Japanese girl with 11 years old from the South of Japan  decided to immigrate alone to Brazil to work and bring money to her father, who went bankrupt. She changed her name to Margarida and started to work and send money to back home. Then, the war emerged and many Japanese were arrested, deported and had their money confiscated. Then, she started to work to help those who had lost everything because of the war and founded Ikoi no sono. With time, the charity started to focus on debilitated elderly people.
  • Kodomo no sono (the garden for children)
    • In the 60’s, a buddhist monk named Ryoshin Hasegawa came to São Paulo to found a temple called Nippakuji. When he met the Nikkei community, he was disheartened at how the children with mental disorders and intelectual limitations were treated and how much the family of these children suffered. Then, in the japanese language school inside the temple, he started to take care of 13 children and founded Kodomo no sono.
  • Kibo no ie (the house of hope)
    • Koko Ichikawa was a nurse who helped her father in a store in a the post-war Japan. Then, in 1954 she got a job to work at an institution in Japan that treated people with intelectual limitations, Fujjikura Gakuen. After four years, she was invited to join the temple Jodo Shinshu in Brazil, where people work working in rehabilitation. But then she was transfered to Nippakuji, where they were building a department for children with intelctual limitations. This would become Kodomo no sono. After four years, Koko decided she wanted to make her own foundation and started to host children at her own house.
At this point I never had heard of these institutions, a fact I regret. But at that moment, when he briefly presented the alternative to the Natsu Matsuri, to my surprise, everyone said they wanted to do both: the Summer festival AND the charity activities. It seemed overwhelming, but I remained silent with my surprise. Martino told us to talk and decide, since his advise was precisely that the organization of the Summer Festival was enough pressure to put people apart instead of bringing them together.

But the opinion of the group was the same, they wanted to do both. Then, the older students of Asebex presented the departments required to organize the event (Finance, entertainment, marketing, etc.) and this year we had the department “Social activities”. I volunteered as the person responsible for this department. But in fact, the groups were small and there were no clear leaders.

We, from the “Social activities” department were responsible for organizing the trip to visit the entities. At this point Martino has already asked the institutions how we could help. Some of them just said the patients would like our visit and company, while others gave very specific directions of what they would like to do and how we could help. So the first dilemma is: if with have limited time and resources, how to choose which one to help?

We decided we would visit all of them and the “Social activities” group organized the visits and entertainment session presentations for the patients of the charities.

It was incredible. On all the visits we were received by the workers and volunteers of the charities and had a day of activities and explanations which I felt were more crafted for our learning than anything else. There are two clear moments that I remember from the visits:

  • The quality of the ceramics at Kodomo no sono
    • One of them was in Kodomo no sono. They showed us their ceramic therapy. This was started when a japanese artist visited the institution and taught the patients how to do ceramics. Then, they received the equipment to ceramic manufacture and started a therapeutic classes to do ceramics. When I saw the ceramics they did, I had no words and I felt mostly anger (for reasons I will explain). I would remember Kodomo no sono many years later when I was in Japan. Here, I visited the capital of ceramics, a city called Mashiko, which has more than 300 potteries and I observed the quality and beauty of the Japanese ceramics. Japan is famous for a style of art  which is called wabi sabi, which is an aesthetics based in intransience and imperfection. In wabi sabi ceramics, for example, the objects are not made to be perfect and they are all different from each other. And, despite looking easy, when I visited Mashiko I was told that when they learn to make ceramics, it takes 3 years only to learn how to prepare the clay, before even starting to model it. When I was in Mashiko, I remember of Kodomo no sono because the most precious pieces of wabi sabi ceramics with extravagant prices were only to match the ones I had seen at Kodomo no sono. The Kodomo no sono ceramics were in their essence wabi sabi. And even when I saw the Kodomo no sono ceramics at the first time I had a sentiment of how unfair it was that they were sold below the market price and that not many people had seen them. And even today I didn’t find pictures in the internet to put here. I believe that is because the ceramics are only produced during their therapeutic sessions, so there are not so many of them.
  • The Margarida museum at Ikoi no sono
    • At Ikoi no sono we had to give a walk with the patients pushing their wheelchairs around the place. When it ended, we had some time. There was this place they didn’t show to us which was a room with memories and pictures of Margarida. I was impressed on how brave and determined she was from such a young age.
So, the visits were successful, but they were not to that hard to organize and we still didn’t translate that into any actual benefit for the institutions.

Then, we decided that in the event, we would do a bingo game and reserve part of the money to the charities and split it equally so they could decide how to use it. Also, we would reserve spaces in the event so that the institutions could sell things if they wanted.

On the day of the event, we all cleaned, cooked, entertained and a few hundred people came to our event. After all the work to organize it, it was a huge success. And we didn’t fight with each other. We got more money than we expected and we could contribute to the charities. We also showed a video of our visited to the charities and explained bout our visits.

One thing that saddened me is that the charities that brought things to sell brought mostly handcraft from the patients and it didn’t sell. Ikoi no sono also brought the ceramics to sell, all the way from their workshop, but it almost didn’t sell also. I bought a cup that I gave to my mother.

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