Every Wednesday this semester I'll be participating in a field placement program that IES offers their students. The program assigns students to various Japanese companies and businesses throughout Tokyo based on their interests and majors. Our field placement coordinator had a hard time finding something in the communication field, so she reverted to the "volunteer experience" section on my resume. This landed me at Sanyukai, which is a shelter and clinic serving people experiencing homelessness. When I first heard I was going to be placed here, I was extremely skeptical. Homelessness is a touchy subject in the US and I've had the opportunity to serve people experiencing homelessness in numerous ways including taking an entire course entitled "Homeless Chic." (Shout out to Dr. Kissko if you ever read this!!) Needless to say, I was intimidated, but definitely curious as to what homelessness in a different country even entails.
Side note: Other students in the program are working for companies like the professional basketball team here (Chiba Jets), Japanime (publishing company), a large Marketing firm in Harajuku, numerous schools, and a Shinto temple. It's a really great program and the IES staff does everything in their power to make great connections with awesome companies that will willingly take in American students stuttering Japanese vocabulary at them (I should probably start charging IES for advertisement). We also have a class that meets once every other week to go along with the whole experience.
So far I've been to Sanyukai twice and I've had nothing but positive experiences. The day goes like this:
9:30 AM - Arrive (after my 1 hour + commute) and sit in on a meeting prepping for the day ahead and recapping the day before, of which I get about 10 words in Japanese that I recognize.
10:00-11:45 - The free clinic at Sanyukai opens and patients are served. At this time I give towels, razors, soap, and drinks to the patients. Doctors from around the area come on their days off to see patients and local drug stores donate all the medication given out. No one can receive medication without seeing a doctor, though.
11:45-1:00 - Lunch. The ladies in the kitchen slave away all morning making a lunch that serves the staff and (from what I've gathered) all the patients that are there that day. We take turns going upstairs to eat in 15 minute increments, which is extremely difficult when you can't eat tomatoes with chopsticks on a good day.
1:00 - Meeting discussing outreach for the day, 10 more Japanese words understood.
1:30-2:30 - Go down near the river, right across the water from Skytree and hand out bags of food prepared by the staff.
3:00 - Meeting recapping the day (they sure do love meetings here) and usually some sort of juice/snack for the volunteers.
3:15 - 4:15 - Newly added portion of time. Usually my day would end now, but 2 staff members asked me and another girl volunteering if we'd help give him english composition lessons. The deal is a half hour of english, and then he teaches us a half hour of Japanese culture. Not bad, right? Next week the agenda is telling them all in english how to get from Tokyo station to where the shelter is located (Minami-senju, for the curious). He even gave us an adorable little Japanese alphabet game called Karuta. It was so nice of him because I'm not sure I'm qualified at all to teach anyone anything.
Speaking of how nice the staff is, they're angels! There are about 8 of them. One American nun, other sisters who prepare the foods, and a handful of men who just have devoted their lives to this cause. When I got there the Swedish girl who is interning there told me they're like one big happy family. When I thought about the situation and what kind of work they do, I wasn't expecting that to actually be true...but it is. They're the happiest people dealing with the worst situations and you can't help but leave a long day feeling uplifted by their attitude.
See, Mom? Nothing to worry about!