At the end of March this year, 2021, JOEE was invited by Matelda Starace of the Italian Embassy in Tokyo to participate in their Spring Bazaar. We were so pleased to participate in this outdoor event where every precaution was taken to make sure that, although we are still dealing with pandemic measures, everyone who attended could do so safely. Masks were worn at all times and only removed briefly, while outdoors, for a few quick photos.
JOEE set up a table amidst other vendors who were also raising money for worthy causes. We met many lovely people and exchanged contact information, promising to keep in touch. Matelda was very gracious, introducing us to new friends and contacts.
Matelda’s husband, the ambassador, mingled with the crowd and stopped to answer my questions about the fascinating array of bonsai that decorated the back veranda. I learned about a unique kind of wisteria that I had never seen before. Refreshments of sparkling beverages and delicious Italian pizza and tartlets were served.
Our donors were happy to receive thank you gifts of darling, knit kangaroo finger puppets. Each puppet has two little joeys tucked into its precisely knit little pouch. These puppets were made for us by a women’s cooperative in Mexico, so our fundraiser had a double impact. We are so thankful to Matelda for the invitation, and very grateful for all of the generous donations that we received throughout the day. If you would like to donate to JOEE, please go to the following link:
Since JOEE’s goal is English education especially for those who cannot afford private lessons, we are posting English teaching videos to YouTube so that lively song and puppet-assisted lessons can be accessible to anyone.
“Miss Raku” and “Ruth-Sensei” have both created videos teaching basic English words. Please feel free to copy the links and share with friends; and encourage them to “Subscribe” to the YouTube channel which can be found by doing a search for “Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud.”
Our summer fundraising efforts were given a delightful boost by an unexpected donation from a couple of youthful philanthropists. Oliver and Jun spent part of their summer hawking hot dogs at a small lakeside stand. As hot doggers, they are not paid for their time, but they are allowed to keep any “tips” that end up in the tip jar on the counter. When the clink of coin is heard in the jar, a cheer goes up from the busy staff inside the hot dog stand. “Yay! Thank you! Domo arigatou gozaimasu!”
This year, JOEE would like to give a rousing cheer right back at them, because instead of keeping their tips and buying some cold “ramune” soda or other delicious summer treats, these two young gentlemen decided to donate ALL of their tips to JOEE, to help support educational programs for kids without parents in institutional homes. Needless to say, the parents of these two kind souls are cheering for them as well.
Thank you very much, Jun and Oliver! Your generous bag of change will help create positive change for many kids this year. JOEE welcomes any donation, large or small, and we are so encouraged by seeing generous hearts and habits develop at such a young age. Hot diggity dog!
If you would still like to donate to JOEE, the Global Giving Fundraiser is still up and running and can be accessed by clicking on the following link:
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 email@example.com.
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.