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Showcase: Jason Bartashius

 

In this issue of Showcase, Jason Bartashius explains why he started the After School Lessons For Tohoku Children project, and introduces the project’s current activities.

Last year after the earthquake happened, I wanted to go to Tohoku to volunteer.  However, due to financial and time constraints, I ultimately was not able to do so. I decided instead to look for ways to help remotely and by using available resources at hand. With friends, I started a project called After School Lessons For Tohoku Children <www.aslftc.com>, which aims to help affected children with their educational needs and especially English acquisition. I made use of the contacts I have who teach ESL,and created online listings of schools willing to give tuition discounts to dislocated children, publishers willing to discount books, and volunteer instructors willing to teach viaSkype.

As we grow more and more,people approach me with new ideas for expanding. It’s been exciting being a part of the creativity people have been bringing to this project. My goal is to give people a chance to help out on a local level by contributing their professional services to a social cause.

Reconstruction efforts are still taking place and much work still needs to be done.  However, there has been a shift in volunteerism toward addressing the needs and concerns of dislocated peoples. By connecting teachers with affected people, I also hope to bring volunteers closer to the realities that the tragedies have caused. Much debate is taking place about Japan’s energy policies and the best way for the devastated regions to be rebuilt. I believe people will be able to more intelligently enter that discussion if they have communicated with or spent time with those still struggling.

Recently,we have begun working with Minna no Te <minnanote.com>, a support group for Tohoku evacuees in Kyoto. We helped them find volunteer English teachers for an event they organized for children in May. About a dozen or so children and four teachers attended. Together we played games and sang songs in English. We hope to organize similar events in the future. Minna no Te has also helped us promote our project and,as a result, a few students have applied to take online English lessons.

Another group we are working with is Creative Action Links (CAL) <www.creativeactionlinks.org>. CAL has raised money for childcare centers and kindergartens in Tohoku. More recently they have begun organizing a new project called the Habatake Tohoku Kids program, which we will take part in when it commences this October. This program is for affected junior high and high school students. In the program they will take a leadership training course offered by UTREK, an NPO based in Tokyo, and online English lessons from our volunteers.

Lastly, we are now, at the time of writing, helping organize English lessons for Fukushima children participating in the Kyoto YWCA home stay program at the end of July.

We are grateful to now be working with CAL and UTREK,and to receive support from Minna no Te and the Kyoto YWCA. Our biggest obstacle has been finding ways to transmit information about our project to those who could benefit from it. Now that is starting to change; student applications are beginning to come in for Skypelessons and we’re finding opportunities to arrange lessons in Kyoto. In the future, we’d be willing and happy to work with other NPOs.

Recently, I have been taking on another role in helping promote the work of other groups that are helping Tohoku children, such as Minna no Te. There’s no doubt that social networking has been instrumental in the success of a lot of volunteer projects aiding Tohoku. We use our Facebook page not just to provide updates about our own activities, but also to keep people informed about refugee life and to support the work of others involved in similar projects.

If you would like to become involved please let us know.

Jason Bartashius is the manager of After School Lessons For Tohoku Children. He lives in Kyoto. He teaches English in the Kansai area and is a lecturer of Japanese Religions for Osaka Gakuin University’s 2012-2013 International Exchange Program. He can be contacted at <afterschoollessons@gmail.com>.

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