Watashi-no-Mirai, a recipient of FIT2021 support, provides self-support programs including job hunting and higher education assistance for children in social foster care such as those in orphanages. We interviewed Ms. Mayumi Takahashi, the representative director of Watashi-no-Mirai.
Watashi-no-Mirai’s director and staff members
1. Please tell us about your background and why you started “Watashi no Mirai?”
I was interested in early childhood education when I was a student, and I was really drawn to an orphanage that I had visited. The orphanage set out a family-like structure where the staff lived on-site with children of mixed ages between 2 and 18 years. That was my first job and I started out thinking, "As long as I have love, I can make it through!” However, I found it difficult to deal with all the challenges children were facing with this mentality alone and I felt the need for a psychological approach, so I began studying psychotherapy. During these studies I gradually understood the children more and was able to grow alongside them. In 2002, a friend asked me to help him start a non-profit organization to support children in social foster care to support self-dependency. At the time, self-support programs were not yet widespread, and I felt that there was not enough support for children in orphanages before and after leaving foster care. This led me to become involved in activities to provide employment and higher education support for children in cooperation with nursing homes and foster parents. Initially, we mainly implemented programs for high school seniors, but we felt the need to support independence from an earlier age so, in 2016, we started a career design program for junior high school students. In January 2019, we launched "Watashi no Mirai", hoping to conduct an independence support program in Tokyo for children from all over Japan. We chose the name "Watashi no Mirai" (meaning “my future”) because we wanted the children to think about their own future, not the future as conceived by adults.
2. What was the most difficult thing about starting up the program?
In the beginning, there were times when there were not many children participating in the program. The most important thing for children to participate was to ensure the orphanage staff and foster parents understand the need for the program. If they do not feel that their children need the program, the information will not filter down to the children. Therefore, we visited facilities to greet them, participated in various events, and directly explained our activities to them, and the number of participants gradually increased.
On the other hand, because we are a small organization, we are able to pay attention to each and every child, and we are always ready to lend a hand whenever there is a cry for help. Through this kind of relationship, we hope to work together with and watch over the children as they create their own happiness. Our relationship with the children is enjoyable, and we learn a lot from them. Also, the relationship continues even after they leave foster care, and their development motivates us to continue our activities to support their independence.
3. How do you use the funds from FIT?
We will use the funds for our Share Base program, which is focused on aftercare to create a space for those leaving foster care. Given the COVID pandemic, there are some challenges to holding the program at full scale, but we would like to have up to 10 foster care leavers per session in one room, where they can have meals together, learn from each other through training programs, and have time for socialization and individual counseling for the children. We have used rental spaces twice to hold Share Base events. In February 2022, we held a trial event in which those leaving foster care were asked to "simulate the changes in their motivation" after leaving foster care, and to reflect on how they have developed at specific times in their past. In May, the first social gathering was held under the theme of a free topic discussion. For the time being, the program will be held in a hybrid format, including remote participation, and we look forward to connecting those leaving foster care with each other through these social events.
View of a self-support program taking place
4. Have you been affected by the COVID pandemic since starting your organization in 2019?
Before the COVID pandemic, we were able to provide presentations to introduce what various job are like and visit workplaces; however, it became difficult to conduct face-to-face and group programs, so we increased the number of remote events. On the other hand, this made it easier for children in rural areas and those who felt uncomfortable attending the venue to participate. However, face-to-face programs allow us to directly pick up on the children's unspoken messages. While we are able to interact with the children after a program event, this is not possible with remote programs. In the future, we would like to promote a hybrid of face-to-face and remote programs, taking advantage of the good points of both.
5. What kind of support can we provide?
We conduct presentations to introduce what jobs are like and visits to workplaces, so we would be very grateful if you could help us by giving us a tour of your workplace or volunteering for our programs. Through your involvement, the children will get to experience more and broaden their perspectives.
6. Finally, do you have a message for those reading this article?
I would like people to know what social foster care is and what kind of children are in it. After leaving foster care, children are trying their best in life while facing various challenges. We would like to create relationships with you all so that these children will not be isolated but will be able to live in society with a sense of security and hope. We hope that you find an interest in our activities. We would like to continue to encourage children to feel that it is okay to be who they are, that they are very important, and that there are many possibilities for their future.
Ms. Takahashi, the Representative Director (upper center); Ms. Shibata, Director (upper right) and FIT2022 Organizing Committee Members (anticlockwise from the left; Ms. Yamamoto, Mr. Takahashi, and Mr. Tsuneyoshi)