Our nonprofit foundation, JOEE, was featured in the spring issue of Japan Harvest magazine from JEMA, an organization that supports and encourages the Christian missionary community in Japan.
The article, “Surprised by JOEE,” details the journey of our growing nonprofit foundation as we seek to bring joyful and engaging English lessons to children in institutionalized care here in Japan.
The text of the article is included below:
Have you ever been swept off your feet by a wave or a powerful idea? Or launched into an adventure with no map or compass? It’s not exactly comfortable—that feeling of helpless exhilaration mixed with joy and uncertainty, inundated by a large dollop of panic. You’re out of your depth and not at all sure that you can handle being this far from shore.
Being flung into something new
Recently prompted (or possibly flung by a heavenly gust of inspiration!) to start a non-profit organization called JOEE (Joyful Opportunity English Education), I don’t yet feel that I can handle the trajectory upon which I have embarked. I’m desperately trusting God to keep me afloat.
I continue to work at Christian Academy in Tokyo as a teacher–librarian, but every Thursday and Friday afternoon, I pack up puppets and props and go to teach English to youngsters at St. Francisco Children’s Home in Ota-ku. The ultimate goal is to provide basic language instruction and native-level pronunciation skills so that when the children exit the care system at the age of 18, they have a marketable job skill and the confidence to work anywhere in the world. My students sing songs, act out words, and play games while learning basic English vocabulary. Puppets who speak only English help make the lessons fun. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating. But I’d like to do it even more, and so next year I will work full-time for the non-profit. This is a frightening leap of faith for me, with no guarantees of income or success, but I feel compelled nonetheless. I trust that God will provide me with the grace I need.
And I do need grace. I have never been all that graceful (I used to break at least a toe a year!), so this new challenge has not been easy. Yes, it may be 2020 now, but I don’t have 20–20 vision nor am I ready for any sort of Olympic endeavor. I don’t know what God was thinking when I was led into this undertaking (or possibly undertow) that has pulled me out into deep waters. I’m approaching 60, for goodness sake. Aren’t I too old for this? As an answer, the God of Abraham and Sarah reminds me that age is no impediment to being launched on a mission.
Let me give you a personal metaphor for what being launched feels like. Every summer, I escape the muggy Tokyo heat and head for Lake Nojiri in Nagano, where I volunteer as a sailing instructor. Nojiri is a quiet lake with small waves and small adventures. But even small lakes can sometimes surprise you. One day, while I was sailing my little four-meter-long Laser dinghy and reveling in the power of pre-typhoon wind and waves, a sudden gust slammed my sail smack down into the water and launched me off the deck in a soaring arc into the sodden sail.
Starting JOEE has felt like being flung into that sail. I had been swept up by an idea that was much too powerful for me to handle. I know what I can do well: I can teach children and make them excited about learning, I can create silly voices for puppets, I can tell stories, and I can capture and hold the tenuous attention of toddlers through an entire story time. But I’m also painfully aware of my shortcomings: I’m certainly not a non-profit creator, a fundraiser, or an administrator. Business plans, numbers, and red tape tie me up in the kinds of knots that a sailor of my meager experience could never undo. So how did I find myself wrapped up in this latest adventure?
The feeling that I was supposed to do something to help began a couple of years ago. In March 2018, I read the tragic story about Yua Funato, a five-year old who died from abuse in her home. The police found a notebook where Yua had written heart-breaking pleas for the abuse to stop. She should have been rescued in time. She should have been placed into the safe care of a children’s home in Tokyo. I was haunted by Yua’s story. I knew that more should be done to help the 45,000 children in Japan who have been rescued and are now living in institutionalized care.
In August of that year, while sitting with other children’s authors during a writer’s conference in Los Angeles, the idea of creating a way to bring compelling, play-based English-language education to young children in orphanages began percolating in my mind. Literature and poetry for children have always been my passion, but so far I had only been successful at getting some of my individual poems published. All of my attempts to publish stories or collections of poems have merely taught me what rejection letters feel like. My motivation as a writer has always been to educate and bring joy to kids. Making a child laugh is a satisfying success. Getting published, however, is a different story. So if writing for children was not going to pan out for me, how else could I help children while living in Japan? That is what I started pondering in that room in Los Angeles.
I have always admired families who’ve adopted children. One of my childhood friends had certainly saved the life of the boy that she and her husband had adopted. And I knew several wonderful families here in Japan who had adopted children. Most of these families could speak Japanese, of course. They could communicate with their adopted children in their native language. My French and Norwegian skills did not help me much here in Japan, but I could teach English to children. Perhaps I could teach English in orphanages.
I began to pray about it. I know full well that the results of prayer are powerful, but I was not prepared for what happened next. I began to be confronted with stories about orphans and began meeting people who were interested in helping with my project. Bible verses about orphans kept popping up: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18 ESV); “The Lord protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows” (Psalm 146:9 NLT); “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27 NLT).
At the end of August, I realized I would need a competent, bilingual administrator to help make this project work. When I mentioned my dream of starting a non-profit foundation to a friend, Hiroko, she shocked the socks off of me by replying that she had just quit her job that very day and that helping me with a non-profit foundation to help orphans was exactly what she wanted to do! God’s timing was perfect.
Within a year, Hiroko had managed to register us as a non-profit foundation able to accept tax-deductible donations from individuals and large corporations. In the meantime, I had set up a website (JOEE.jp) and gathered friends who could help to serve on JOEE’s board of directors. We are currently teaching English lessons twice a week at one children’s home and a friend is teaching one lesson a month at another children’s home. The children at the home I go to have begun using English words and phrases in their daily life and singing songs in English, surprising their caregivers with their good pronunciation.
Although we have had some success already, JOEE has a long way to go with fundraising and promotion. I am well aware that this small non-profit might eventually fail, but I am determined to do the best I can with the resources I have. The Holy Spirit sends the inspiration and wind, and I merely need to use that power to move forward. I must admit that I have been surprised by JOEE. Life is an adventure, and I am blessed to be part of this astounding voyage.
Note: If you are interested in volunteering at JOEE, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A warm and heartfelt THANK YOU to Julie Fukuda, master quilter, who donated this amazing hand-stitched quilt to JOEE this month. Wow! We are so grateful and we have so many plans for using this wonderful quilt during our lessons once they start up again.
This quilt is an “I Spy” quilt, bursting with beautiful fabrics showing lots of objects that can be found and named. The quilt calls to mind the traditional game of observation. “I spy with my little eye… ” This quilt will be perfect for teaching English words to young children. “Where is a cat? There it is! Find an owl. Yes, you found it! Can you find the kangaroos? There they are on each of the corners!”
Sewn into the back of the quilt is a little pocket containing two bean bags for use in more creative games. I can’t wait to use this colorful language learning tool. The JOEE kids at the orphanages are going to LOVE it!
Prior to the start of the summer of 2019, Ruth, Hiroko and I were able to schedule a lesson at St. Joseph’s Orphanage which would be open to preschool, kindergarten and lower grade elementary school children. Armed with puppets, picture books, snacks, and prayer we waited expectantly for the kids to arrive. The staff there would like the program to be open to whomever would like to attend, so we weren’t sure how many children or what ages would participate.
At first, two elementary-age girls arrived. It was lovely to meet them, but they left giggling at our silly dancing and opening song. The clock was ticking our lesson minutes away, but finally, slightly damp and smelling of soap bubbles, a nice group of kindergarten-age children and their caretakers arrived! Little feet carried them into the room and we began the “ball” lesson.
Ruth was the main teacher and led the lesson with her gentle grace and sweet voice. Lots of giggles, happy faces, and great participation followed. Hiroko and I sat with warm children in our laps, little hands holding our own. One boy in particular kept coming to my lap and seemed to really enjoy being with me. I prayed for him and all of his friends quietly in my heart as we all practiced “ball” and Ruth passed out animal shaped cookies. “Please!” “Thank you!” Little voices filled the air with English. We acted out a story using puppets and sound effects, and I was able to reprise my role as “the snake” for “Can I Play Too?”
At the end of the lesson, we thanked the orphanage director for her hospitality. We are praying that she will be happy with our program and invite us back.
On June 13th in Higashi Kurume, we were able to hold a sample JOEE lesson and shoot footage for a promotional video for JOEE. Ruth Ingulsrud recruited children from Christian Academy in Japan, Honeybee English School, and local kindergartens to participate in the video. Also, myself, Raku Dishner, was recruited as a fellow teacher for the JOEE organization, and (as I later discovered), a volunteer assistant for the video.
Shin Theodore Lewis, a recent graduate of Christian Academy in Japan, and talented cinematographer, volunteered his talent and camera to be director and also to film the lesson.
It was a sweltering start-of-summer day, but the children were excited and eager to dance, laugh and play with Ruth and Mehh-gumi the Lamb puppet! Moms were also there and had a great time assisting and participating with their children. Each family signed a waiver allowing us to use their faces in the video.
The theme of the lesson was “ball.” Ruth read the story “A Ball for Daisy” by Chris Raschka, followed by Mo Willems’ well-loved “Elephant and Piggy” book, “Can I Play Too?” I was surprised and nervous as Ruth called me up to manage a large snake puppet and participate in the story! She also passed around various sized balls and played the game “pass the ball”. The children counted and passed and tossed and caught the ball while saying “Throw!” and “Catch!”
Many picture books were available at the lesson’s end for the children to read with a helpful grown-up. They were all rather sad when the lesson ended. Ruth, the kind moms, Hiroko, Shin and I were sweaty, but satisfied with our hard work and the resulting happy, happy kids!
Having video footage of a JOEE lesson will help us to raise funds, introduce our program to prospective orphanages, as well as recruit volunteers and teachers. We are grateful to all who participated in the sample lesson and to Shin Theodore Lewis for his grace and talent to help us with this project.
People of JOEE recently had the pleasure and privilege of presenting some of its program at the St. Francisco Children’s Home. Thanks to an introduction to the administrators of the home by Flavio Gori who volunteers through the Catholic Miserichordia organization, JOEE was invited to participate in a planned activity on June 1, 2019.
We were met by the very friendly nuns who run the home and were given a quick tour of the facilities. The home is quite large and has a lovely playing area with a quaint tree house giving the place a storybook feel.
There is a care facility for the elderly nuns connected to the children’s home staffed by gracious caregivers. The chapel, which is also accessible to the children, is beautiful and serene. I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful it would be to put on a puppet program there for the children to help them celebrate Christmas or Easter.
While the older children played soccer outside with Flavio and his friends, the younger ones made beautiful puff-paint masterpieces in the large upstairs room. As the artwork dried, the children gathered for story time with Meh-gumi the Lamb. Learning English was fun and interactive with the puppet helping to explain and act out simple words and expressions. At one point, we needed help from the children in demonstrating the word, “under.” The storyteller was too big to crawl under the chair and so the children happily volunteered. One after another they went “UNDER” giggling the whole time.
Meh-gumi was a big hit with the kids. Everyone wanted to meet the lamb. The children loved talking with the puppet and gave her hugs and kisses before we left. Meh-gumi was thrilled! So many hugs! So many kisses!
I hope we will be able to return to St. Francisco again to teach joyful English to the young residents and to play another exuberant game of Duck-Duck-Goose. Thank you, St. Francisco Children’s Home, for welcoming JOEE!
On May 25, at the invitation of the alternative school, the Mitaka “Free School,” JOEE arrived at their facility across from the Ghibli Museum. This school helps to educate students who have trouble learning in traditional Japanese classrooms. The people of JOEE arrived on a Saturday morning to give a two-hour lesson to the children of the school’s staff.
The lesson began with a puppet-assisted reading of “A Ball for Daisy,” a Caldecott-Award-Winning wordless picture book by Chris Raschka.
著者：Chris Raschkaの字のない絵本「A Ball for Daisy」のパペットでの読み聞かせからレッスンが始まりました。
This book is particularly effective in helping to teach the word ball. The students empathize with the little shaggy dog who loves his red ball so very much and is heartbroken when the ball pops. His sorrow turns to joy when he receives a new blue ball.
Because we had a full two hours with the children, and because we had parents available to help, we were able to add an art project to our lesson. The kids had fun creating colorful finger-painted balls that turned out beautifully!
We met with the parents after the lesson to get their feedback. They had very positive comments. They encouraged us to offer some JOEE lessons to local families in the fall. We would love to come back to this vibrant neighborhood to teach more children!
JOEE volunteers have begun teaching immersive English lessons to children aged four to seven at a children’s home in Mitaka called Choyo Gakuen. Six children are delighted to meet puppets, hear stories and play games that teach a beginning set of English vocabulary.
A college-aged volunteer joined our regular teaching staff, and she was a big hit with the kids．When a couple of the children became hyperactive and needed a little calming down, she paid special attention to them and they were soon ready to listen and join in once again.
子どもたちは、実際にパペットで演じた絵本の読み聞かせを最も楽しんでいるようでした。モ・ウィレムス著作の”Can I Play Too,”というお話の最後には、『ヘビさんの投げっこ』という場面があり*、子どもたちと実際にパペットを使って一緒に投げっこ遊びをしました。 *ゾウとブタがどうしたらお友達のヘビを仲間に入れて、みんなで一緒にボールの投げっこ遊びができるか考え思いついた場面。
The children especially enjoyed story time that was enhanced by puppets acting out some of the parts. They got to play “Toss-the-Snake” at the end of the Mo Willems’ story, “Can I Play Too,” where Elephant and Piggy try to figure out how to include a new friend, Snake, in their game of catch.
By the end of the English lesson, the children had learned words like “ball,” “throw,” and “catch.” The very last activity was to have the children ask for a ball-shaped treat by politely saying, “Ball please!” The response was, “Yes!” and they got to eat their round snacks. We had as much fun as the kids and we look forward to our next teaching session.
On October 14, 2018, an intrepid band of JOEE supporters met together at the cafeteria of the International Christian University (ICU) in Mitaka to begin the adventure of creating a non-profit organization called JOEE or the Japan Orphan English Education initiative.We discussed structure, methodology, mission statement, timeline and took a look at the various skills that our group of volunteers brought with them. We plotted a course and then hopped to it.
We will be meeting for a second time on November 11, In the space of less than a month, we have made good progress in registering JOEE as a non-profit foundation, opened a bank account on behalf of JOEE, and visited a couple of places where we would like to share the JOEE experience.
The first lesson will take place at a Mitaka orphanage on November 29 and four of our JOEE members will be there to help out.