by Steven Jankowski
What does it mean to “volunteer”? One dictionary defines it as “to offer (one’s time or labor) freely or for no pay,” or “to express or offer without being asked or obligated.”
Whether you’re donating your time at a local community center, lending a hand along a beach picking up garbage, or even giving of yourself (literally!) to a local blood bank, there are many ways you can volunteer in and around Nagasaki Prefecture.
Let’s look at some of the things you can do to help those around you and make your community a better, more interesting place.
Here in Japan, there are plenty of schools and services offering English classes, in-home lessons, or private tutors. Those are all valid means of learning English for some, but they’re not for everybody. It could be too formal or strict. Existing options might not fit into their schedule. Maybe they can’t quite fit it into their budget.
Whatever the case, a great way to interact in your local community and make connections is to run your own free eikaiwa. I’ve sat in on a few in the past, and they’re a great way to socialize: unwind for a bit and talk, play a card or party game, and get to know the people in your area. You can also introduce them to a bit of culture from your homeland. It’s also a great way for you to make connections that might help you later on if you ever need to ask a favor.
Oh, and if you know another language besides English, add that into the mix as well! Nagasaki and northern Kyushu have some of the greatest language diversity in all of Japan, given their history and proximity to other countries. You’d be surprised how many people might be interested in picking up some Spanish or German, for example.
Your area likely already has community spaces you can go to that would be open for volunteers. Many local libraries, for example, have read-aloud programs for young children. Offering one in English might be an attractive option to them. You could also ask the library what interest they may have in curating materials in a foreign language; it could be a great place to share and donate your (gently-used) books when you are finished with them or moving to a new house.
Do you enjoy sports? Could you see yourself teaching or coaching? Head to the local gymnasium, athletic ground, or community center and offer lessons, or see if they need volunteer managers/coaches. If you know a niche sport or outdoor game, this is a great opportunity to bring your knowledge to a new group of people!
This one’s mainly for the educators. See if your school has some sort of volunteer activities that students participate in, and ask if you can join them. My school has a Japan Red Cross (JRC) Club, and every few months they go out to the city and collect donations from passersby, hold signs near the local blood donation center asking people to give blood (which you should if you can; blood banks are always in need), and do other sorts of student activism. They also interact with the elderly and welfare organizations.
The school sports clubs also join together with our town’s beautification committee and go out once a month to pick up trash and plant flowers. And on that note…
Japan is often considered a clean country, but we’re all human, and sometimes trash isn’t disposed of properly. Being an island nation, a lot of waste washes up on the shores. I have joined a few beach cleanup events in Fukuoka with the groups CICLO and Fukuoka For Sustainability. I’ve met some interesting people doing this as well, and through their partnership with the local town office, we were supplied with trash bags and some tongs. When we finished for the day, we’d count up how many bags we filled and sorted into burnable or recyclable and report it to the office for them to pick up later and take to the clean center.
You don’t have to do something as big as holding an event to clean a beach, though. It’s an easy thing you can help fix; just pick up the odd bit of trash when you see it and find your nearest convenience store (one of the only places you’re guaranteed to find waste bins). If you really want to make an impact in your local community, take a few hours and head to places where trash unfortunately accumulates; country roadsides, forest trails, and beaches. If you drive, keep a few garbage bags in your car along with some gloves and tongs. Get some friends together and organize your own cleanup, and you may attract others to your cause!