MANILA, Philippines – The meeting of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko with Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) here on Tuesday, January 26, brought to Hidekazu Kumano fond memories of his own volunteer work in the country after World War II.
In the 1950s, Kumano was among the first Japanese volunteers here under the JOCV program of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), one of the world’s largest bilateral aid agencies.
Assigned in Benguet province to work with farmers, he was in his early 20s and was joined by 11 other volunteers from his country.
The Philippines was among the first 5 countries where early Japanese volunteers were dispatched for development work, according to a media release by JICA on Thursday, January 28. The other countries who received volunteers were Laos PDR, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Kenya.
For two years, Kumano was detailed with the Presidential Arms on Community Development in La Trinidad, Benguet, where he helped farmers cultivate mulberry trees. PACD is the forerunner of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
“The mayor gave me a small plot of land where I could work with community members in cultivating 860 mulberry saplings, and helped the town grow as many as 12,160 trees during my JOCV stay,” Kumano was quoted in the JICA release.
The volunteer stayed in an apartment, and has kept in touch with the landlord and his children after him. “My best memory as Japanese volunteer was the life-long friendship I had with the Filipinos I met and with my fellow volunteers,” he said.
2016 marks the 50th year of the JOCV program in the Philippines. More than 1,500 Japanese volunteers have been dispatched here during this period, and some of them, including Kumano, will return to the Philippines to celebrate this milestone.
“From working with communities, I learned the value of being a human being, that I could develop my capacity to accept diversity without losing my core ideas,” Kumano said.
After his stint as volunteer, Kumano continued with development work. He became a staff of JICA, where he assisted in programs in Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal, India, and the Philippine offices. – Rappler.com