The Osaka International School of Kwansei Gakuin, as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School tries to live up to lofty mission statement of the IB. The IB “aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world (emphasis is mine) through intercultural understanding and respect. One of the traits I like best about the IB curriculum, is this central focus on improving the world. Is that what we should always be doing, everyday?
In our school’s mission statement, we also have a similar phrase, … contributing to a global community. I define global not only as relating to the whole world, but also to another meaning of the word, relating to the “encompassing the whole of something.” Combining both concepts, our school community should be creating a better and more peaceful world for all members of society. It is especially important to focus on the disadvantaged or those at the margins, who live in precarious circumstances, if we want to be truly “global”.
Service to the community runs through the three IB curricular programmes in the school. In the elementary, the Primary Years Programme (K-5) features the “Actioneers” a rotating group of students, guided by the coordinator and teachers, lead the students initiating actions in the community. In the Middle Years Programme (6-10) community service is an aspect all students must be a part of, and in the Diploma Programme (grades 11-12) students must complete the requirements in the Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) in order to receive the diploma. The idea is as a student matures and gains experience, they will be more independent in their contributions in this area.
One of the best initiatives we do at OIS is our support of the homeless in Osaka, probably the group most at risk in the community. I was surprised to learn that there are homeless people in Japan, and the neighborhood of Kamagasaki, located in one of the poorest wards in the city, Nishinari-ku, is where many end up. The homeless are mostly elderly males, physical laborers who for common reasons like gambling addiction, alcohol abuse, mental health issues, a tough job market, etc. have come upon tough times and found themselves without a permanent home.
Lyn Melville-Rea, a long-time OIS teacher and our current CAS coordinator and service learning coordinator, leads our students in contributing to the work of groups helping the homeless in Kamagasaki. Our students volunteer weekly to go on yamawari, or night patrol, to bring food, blankets toiletries, etc. to homeless men. They work with the Sannoh Children’s Center and other charities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Nishinari-ku, to support the homeless and poor. OIS has worked with these groups since the founding of the school, 25 years ago.
Besides providing the essentials, the students give the homeless something more. They give them recognition and human interaction. They are often ignored and shunned by people passing by, in a hurry to get to and from work or home. Our students stop and talk with them as they are providing them with much needed supplies.
Now you may question the safety of taking students to a ward known for its poverty and red light district (prostitution). Japan is unlike other countries in that the centrality of respect for others in the culture, makes crime rates extremely low. It is quite safe for students to walk at night there. The students find their stereotypes of the homeless are broken and they realize they are ordinary people like everyone else. Establishing relationships with the people of Kamagasaki has given our students self confidence and social skills in working with different types of people.
Our students’ actions with the homeless is certainly living the mission of both the IB and SOIS! On behalf of our students, I would like to thank Lyn for her leadership and dedication to helping the homeless and poor of Osaka. Many students have grown and learned from the experiences.
I accompanied the students on a yamawari last school year and you can read my impressions of the night. You can also listen to Mrs. Melville Rea and students talk about their experiences on the podcast page of our website here.