I pass by a group of homeless men on my way to work every morning. One of the gentlemen and I often exchange nods when I walk by. I would really like to do something for this particular man, but I don’t know if it would be offensive.
How should I go about it? Are there any organizations I can donate things or money to, or volunteer at? I want and need to do something, but what options are available?
—Want to Help
Dear Want to Help,
There are so many people who are struggling to survive in Japan—from the homeless to the elderly, people with disabilities, people affected by disasters and children in orphanages. Reaching out and wanting to help is a great way of making a difference in people’s lives. I can hear that you are concerned about what is socially and culturally appropriate. This is a great question. Too often, people race straight into helping without stopping to consider what the person really needs, what is respectful and what skills or information they themselves might need. Often with the best intentions, volunteers can find themselves creating more stress for both themselves and the person or group they want to help.
Connecting with an NPO or organization that provides volunteer opportunities, training and support is important. There are increasing volunteer opportunities in Japan for the English-speaking community: organizations such as Second Harvest (http://2hj.org/english/), which provides food to the homeless and elderly; O.G.A. for Aid (www.ogaforaid.org) provides opportunities in Tohoku; and Hands on Tokyo (www.handsontokyo.org/en) and of course TELL are just a few options.
At TELL, our volunteers frequently comment that their lives have been changed in so many positive ways they never imagined simply by becoming a volunteer and helping others. I’m sure this gentleman you pass by would be more than grateful for any food or warm clothing as the winter approaches.
Answer courtesy of TELL. If you need to talk, they’re here to listen. Call the TELL Lifeline at 03-5774-0992 from 9am-11pm, 365 days a year. Or visit their website at www.telljp.com
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