Helping uplift the poor and vulnerable

A project to boost self-help initiatives shows Japan’s long-standing connection to helping South Africans

THE GRANT Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Project (GGP) is one of various development co-operation schemes that Japan has been implementing in Africa.

To date, more than 630 GGP projects amounting to approximately R559 million have been implemented throughout South Africa. The aim is to support NGOs, educational and health-care institutions involved with self-help initiatives at grassroots level in disadvantaged communities.

GGP started in 1990 after the release of Nelson Mandela. As I may be one of the longest-serving Japanese diplomats in South Africa, spending a total of 19 years here intermittently since 1987, I was also involved at the introduction of this scheme to South Africa back in 1990.

In recognition of what the GGP has achieved since its inception in South Africa, I wish to share a story of the Orlando Children’s Home in Soweto where, a week ago, a youth development centre was handed over.

The building of the centre was combined with the provision of an advanced solar power system of Japanese technology that can produce 100% of the electricity needed and reduce the environmental and financial burden. The total cost amounts to R4.4m, including a R1.3m solar system. A Japanese company, Kawaguchi Energy Natural Solutions, provided a high-quality solar power system. The solar panels on the roof top are one of the lightest in the world in weight, flexibility and efficiency, and strong enough to withstand hail.

The chief executive, MrKawaguchi, is passionate about applying this technology to educational and manufacturing facilities around Africa.

This youth development centre will provide a place for children to practise indoor sports including karate, judo and basketball; singing and dancing; as well as skills training. I hope this centre will become a place of learning and healthy development for the youth of the Orlando Children’s Home.

I have been part of many GGP projects, but this one stands out as special.

The Japanese community in South Africa has a longstanding relationship with the Orlando Children’s Home spanning almost 30 years.

I remember the situation in Soweto being very different in 1988 when I went there. My role as a young diplomat was to attend anti-apartheid rallies to show our solidarity as much as possible so that the then government could not easily ban the meetings.

I went around townships, including Soweto, and there I came to know the Orlando Children’s Home, which was a place for the most vulnerable and traumatised of society. The children were very hungry for love, asking me for hugs – this touched me and inspired me to facilitate connecting the home to the Japanese community.

To share a story that connects the past to the present, former Japanese prime minister Koizumi visited the home in 1997 when he was minister of health and welfare. He made a donation of harmonicas – a popular musical instrument in Japan – to the children and even demonstrated how to play the harmonica himself.

Five years later, in 2002, Mr Koizumi visited South Africa again, but this time as prime minister of Japan, and attended the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development in Sandton. Children from the home were reunited with him.

A young girl, who had kept a harmonica given by Mr Koizumi five years earlier, surprised him by playing it. It became a story which was widely reported in Japan by Asahi Shimbun “Natsukashi no Harmonica (Nostalgic Harmonica)”. Today that girl, Sinah Buyeye, works at the Orlando Children’s Home and is the right-hand person to the director of the home.

Orlando Children’s Home is a place of hope and goodwill. It is encouraging that some of the home’s graduates have become successful businessmen and social workers, and are giving love back into society. Knowing that the environment outside of the children’s home, in reality, is not always friendly to them, they are making efforts, in high spirits, to show themselves as role models for the younger ones.

I have had conversations with some of the graduates and they are incredibly humble and never take for granted the care they received at the home. They keep a positive attitude in life, even telling their better-off colleagues, “look how fortunate I am to have so many brothers and sisters”.

Orlando Children’s Home is also a place of mutual learning. Japanese pupils cherish the relationship with the children of the home, where they experience the richness of human bonds and friendship through their exchange activities.

One pupil from the Japanese school was so inspired that he came back to Orlando Children’s Home when he became a university student. The cheerful, jolly-faced children playing soccer barefoot was unforgettable and made him think deeper about what happiness is, after all. He chose to study education and decided to work at the development agency JICA. It is testimony that Orlando Children’s Home positively motivates and influences one’s life.

Another story is that in March 2011, when we had the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami, 45 members of the South African rescue team were dispatched and made a tremendous contribution. When our children and parents were at the edge of life and death, it was South Africans who risked their lives and helped us. It touched many people in Japan, including a famous Japanese singer Tokiko Kato. Tokiko, who knew the Orlando Children’s Home, decided to visit South Africa in 2012 to host a Thank You Rescue Team South Africa Concert and donated the funds raised from the concert to the home.

The GGP also has footprints in the Western Cape, where there are co-operation initiatives dating back to the 1990s, such as the Novalis Ubuntu Institute, where seminar halls were built. The institute has kept its connection to Japan alive and recently hosted a peace concert by Mieko Tsurusawa, a Japanese soprano who visited Cape Town.

A seminar hall was also built at the Institute for Healing of Memories, and the relationship with the organisation has further evolved into collaboration with the consulate on other projects.

These projects include the planting of a Ginkgo tree donated by Green Legacy Hiroshima, which survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb 73 years ago. The tree was planted at the Taal Monument in Paarl as a symbol of peace, friendship and resilience as part of the annual One World Peace Festival with Clarece Ford.

There have also been collaborations with Ons Plek Projects for Girls, Athlone School for the Blind, Red Cross Children’s Hospital and St James RC Primary School, among others. A common thread of inspiration which connects people to GGP is a sense of humanity and a desire to uplift.

We truly cherish the sustained relations with them in resonance with the words of Nelson Mandela, who said, “When you act for others you will become a true human being”. He also said “Efforts of inclusive development should uplift the level of humanity as a society”.

When our children and parents were at the edge of life and death it was South Africans who risked their lives and helped us

YASUSHI NAITO Consul of Japan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *