As of 2014, research conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare showed that 46,000 children were living in orphanages, foster homes, and other such institutions throughout the country. Of the 28,831 children in orphanages, more than half had been subjected to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or neglect—before being taken in.
The repercussions of these statistics extend far beyond the children’s lives in the homes, as expectations are continually lowered, and perspectives narrowed. What the children often lack is the continual mentoring and encouragement needed to see them through high school, university, and into a decent-paying job. With some orphanages housing over 100 children, the staff-to-child ratio is often unsatisfactory, and the children do not receive consistent, one-on-one adult mentorship.
The non-profit organization Living Dreams provides these children with the support they need to discover their passion and have the motivation and self-confidence to succeed. The organization runs programs such as Designing Artist Academy (DAA), a summer arts day camp, and Digital Native Program, which aims to provide children with better access to technology. Living Dreams also provides career aptitude tests to see what the children’s strengths are, and to help them focus on career possibilities.
Started in 2006 by Tokyo International School founder Patrick Newell, Living Dreams has set up computer labs in several of the homes where children receive training with software, and can utilize the internet to gain access to a wider world. Michael Clemons, Living Dreams’ Director of Partnerships, explains, “The use of the laptops and access to the internet allows the children to participate in 21st-century learning,” through which they are able to gain “the skills of communication, collaboration, and seeing the world in a more holistic way.”
At the recent Living Dreams “Sharing and Caring” Gala and Fun-Raiser, held on May 15 in Ebisu, Hayakawa-san, director of the children’s home Kiyose Kodomo no Ie, spoke about the biggest challenge facing the children, which is that they must leave at the age of 18. Michael explains how one of Living Dreams’ goals “is to see [the children] employed and self-sufficient” when that time comes. “Whether college-bound or employment-bound,” he says, “it is quite necessary for Japan, in this shrinking society, to see all adults ‘firing on all cylinders’ when it comes to employment and the economy.”
The children at the homes, Michael says, are “selfless.” He explains, “I think children naturally are self-absorbed, but the kids in these homes—perhaps due to their experiences—ask for very little and appreciate what comes their way.” Lois Kawashima, Coordinator at Living Dreams who has been involved with DAA since its inception, feels she has succeeded in influencing a positive change in the children’s lives “when [she sees] their faces at the end of camp.” What she hopes Living Dreams achieves is to “put each child in a group/foster home on an equal footing with children living in a secure family environment.”
The Gala proved Living Dreams is already making this happen. A young woman who grew up in a children’s home explained she was now working as a designer at a cosmetics company after attending a vocational design school with the support of the organization.
The goal of the night was to raise ¥10,000,000, which will be used to purchase 350 computers for those living in the children’s homes of Tokyo and the Tohoku region. The ultimate goal is to provide a one-to-one computer-to-child ratio in the homes in order to increase their digital training, and additional donations are always welcome to help reach this goal. After all, as Michael joked at the Gala, “money does buy happiness … if you spend it on other people.”
To donate, get involved, or learn more about Living Dreams, visit www.livingdreams.jp.