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Service Programs

Families Bond During Cleanup on Arakawa River Banks

On November 9, 880 people gathered at 9:30 am in Adachi City, part of metropolitan Tokyo, Japan, to clean the banks of the Arakawa River that flows through the eastern part of the city. Following the orientation and opening remarks, 150 families from eight different community volunteer groups started collecting garbage that had been dumped along the riverside.

Removing the garbage stuck among the reeds restores the plants’ ability to clean the river water. About 40 foreign residents in Tokyo also participated. A high school boy expressed how shocked he was by the amount of rubbish he saw at the riverside. “I pulled on a tire, and a whole bicycle came out of the mud,” he said. “I was so focused and time went so fast!”

After collecting rubbish, each family counted the quantity of material and recorded the type of rubbish. Through these investigations it is possible to identify and track a community's social problems as well as environmental problems. For example, in Adachi City, volunteers found many hypodermic needles, which may have been used for illegal drug use, and also resin pellets (small granules of 0.1 to 0.5 centimeters in diameter), which cling to hazardous substances and contain an environmental hormone which harms animals in the rivers and seas. Collected information is reported to the Japan Environmental Action Network, a nonprofit organization that monitors river and sea water throughout Japan.

The cleaning took place at two locations along the same river. The two groups came together at noon for the closing event. Following the award ceremony, local students performed “Soranbushi,” a traditional dance of Hokkaido, an island in the northern part of Japan.

“This project is not only about solving environmental issues; it aims to strengthen families and provide character education for both parents and children,” said Mr. Kobayashi, who initiated the project. The organizers believe that it is profoundly meaningful to promote family values in the current society in which family breakdown has had such a serious impact to the point where murders occur within families.

Mr. Kobayashi said, “Parents also need education.” Some parents do not understand the value of volunteerism and they discourage their children from joining volunteer activities. Parent participants expressed that they were so moved by seeing their own children picking up garbage that they now want to lead future projects. The project gave a sense of ownership to many participants, who expressed their inspiration to continue to contribute to the well-being of the local community.

This project began two years ago and will continue on a weekly basis. Every Saturday, approximately 50 people clean the river, and once a month 500 people participate. At first, it was not easy to gain the cooperation from others, but when the project organizers started explaining the vision of the Global Peace Festival, people became more interested.

As well as cleaning the river, there are some other activities which families can enjoy together, such as making a reed pipe and playing a nature game. In the nature game, each person is assigned to act as a certain animal and, as they play their roles, children can learn about the ecosystem and food chain.

There is also a historical aspect to this ongoing effort. Arakawa is a canal allegedly made by many forced laborers who were brought to Japan from Korea. Many Koreans lost their lives on the riverside after the Kanto earthquake of 1923. In the hope of reconciling historical enmity between Koreans and Japanese, some of the long-term volunteers held a memorial service for the victims and participated in a 50-kilometer walk along the route Koreans were forced to take out of Tokyo.

The project organizers envision developing the cleaning project into an educational program for a larger number of elementary and secondary school students, with the support of the local community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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