I am having an amazing time working at a care home for physically and mentally disabled people. The residents here are very varied in their capabilities but I get to work closely with each of them and have got to know all their unique personalities.
We spend most of our time assisting everyone with their daily living such as helping to feed people, making beds, putting away laundry and so on, but the work involves much more than that. The home runs many clubs and activities such as flower arranging, cooking class and a singing group for instance and these are always really enjoyable to help out with, making sure everyone can get as involved as possible. Also we make sure the residents get to be as independent as possible, so we often take them out of the home for a stroll or to go to the shops, and are always ready to help with their individual requests, which could be anything from painting their nails to playing them at checkers, there is always something new and unexpected! We also help to keep everyone healthy by doing special exercises with them every day to keep their muscles in use if they find movement difficult.
I have learned all kinds of skills during my time here and had all kinds of incredible and valuable life experiences. However I think the main skill I have developed here is communication. Learning Japanese by being constantly surrounded by native speakers is very different and more effective than formal lessons and much more interactive. However learning to communicate here is not as simple as overcoming the language barrier. Working in this setting has really opened my mind to getting to know people who at first can seem quite shockingly different to what you are used to and it also makes you realise how many different ways there are to communicate! For instance there are people here who can speak fine but whose learning difficulties mean they forget we are not fluent native Japanese speakers! There are others who can only communicate in written notes or with alphabet cards. Others cannot speak or write but use gestures and expressions, which once you get used to it is just as effective! And most importantly everyone responds to a smile!
Being a volunteer is great, by really living and working in a different country you get to understand the culture in much more depth than you ever could as a tourist. Also, you can always see the contribution your efforts are making and you always know you are doing something valuable, so it is really rewarding and uplifting.
The people here are really welcoming and love getting the chance to help us experience different aspects of Japanese culture, such as seeing traditional activities like a tea ceremony! We have also been lucky enough to visit lots of interesting historical and cultural places like ancient castles, beautiful temples and fascinating museums. We have even participated in local festivals, which is an amazing experience and very different to anything back home!
I have got so much out of this experience and become so attached to this country that I intend to stay longer in Japan and undertake another voluntary placement, this time at a hospital. Hopefully in the future I might even work in Japan but I know I will always have strong links with this place. I have not decided what I would like to do in the future but after having this wonderful opportunity and meeting all these challenges I feel like I could do anything and that any opportunity is open to me, and that I will have the confidence to succeed in whatever I choose to do.
Submitted by: Aliya Vasylenko