Staff Interview: Tomoko ISHIKAWA (Concert Project)

[Original by Haruka SHIMIZU, 2015 Public Relations Intern (December 11, 2015); Translated by Y. Nakamura/R. Florea]

Ms. Ishikawa is busy with preparing the JVC’s Concert for International Cooperation.

Hello everyone, I am the public relations intern Haruka Shimizu. In our sixth installment of staff interviews, we have Ms. Tomoko Ishikawa. When she was a student, she went to the JVC’s Concert for International Cooperation. Later on, it led her to her current task in charge of the Secretariat for the Concert Project. This concert contributes its profit to JVC’s activities. Ms. Ishikawa, in charge of this great event, is a mother of two children. I would like to find out about her experiences in student days, family life and organizing concerts!

What led you to participate in the field of international cooperation?

I grew up in the countryside of Ehime prefecture and wished to explore foreign countries in my childhood. In my elementary school days, I read a book entitled “Rainbow Bridge over Nepal”, which made me interested in doing volunteer work overseas. I thought that it would be fantastic to work to get people’s appreciation, and dreamed of doing something for people in the future. I was roughly thinking of how I would become an overseas volunteer, but I did not know how to do it. Internet was not as developed as nowadays. I had no friends with the same wish as me, so I took no further action.

After graduating high school, I entered university in Tokyo. I started doing volunteer work in a Japanese language class. I was a student in Showa Women’s University, and one day I found a poster of the JVC’s Concert for International Cooperation in the campus. This was my first meeting with JVC. I realized that the JVC concerts in Tokyo have been held under the university’s care since their first performance in 1989.

“International cooperation” was written on the poster and I thought that if I went to the concert, I could obtain more information about it. I bought a ticket immediately. I originally intended to go together with my friend and planned to buy two tickets of 5,000 yen for Seat A. However, the request was flatly turned down. I took the plunge and bought a ticket for Seat S for 10,000 yen. I went to the concert and came to know about JVC. Next month I became a member of JVC. I knew nothing about JVC beforehand. However, after reading the pamphlet distributed at the concert, I began thinking that “I would like to know more about international cooperation! I would like to get involved in JVC!”

You met JVC when you were a fourth-year university student. How did you figure out your plan after graduation?

She told me that she dreamed of being a kindergarten teacher in her childhood. She felt nostalgic about her student days, too.

To tell the truth, I didn’t get a job just after graduation but was doing volunteer work at JVC. While my classmates were eager to find employment, I didn’t have the same motivation to get a job. I was left behind the tide of job finding. I tried to find a job at some companies, but I couldn’t say that I really wanted to work for them. Naturally, I was unsuccessful in getting a job.

One morning I came to JVC to help staff members and to do office work as usual. A staff member said to me, “People who are the same age as you have a meeting for volunteer team this evening. Could you join it, if possible, Tomo-chan?” I found it interesting and decided to join in. It was the volunteer team for Africa*. After joining, I have made new friends with common interests and got connected with people working for other NGOs. It made me happier and more. I got aware that it was my favorite place. As I took part in the volunteer team every week, I got deeply interested in Africa, which was an unknown world to me.

[*JVC had offices for their activities in Ethiopia and in South Africa at that time.]

While continuing my volunteer work, I became aware of the essential thing in life: one cannot live without working. I started finding employment in May after graduation. Because I wished to continue with my volunteer work, I looked for a job in the vicinity of JVC office with no overtime work. Finally I found a clerical job at a company in Kanda. It’s exactly true that I found employment on the condition that I could continue volunteer work at JVC (she laughs).

What did you do in the volunteer team?

The African Volunteer Team had a booth in the International Cooperation Festival around 1995-1997. The festival changed name to “The Global Festa”, in which JVC still continues participating.

I organized a report meeting of a staff member after his/her return from the project area. I also arranged a study meeting, where participants stayed overnights together. I sold goods and food from South Africa or Ethiopia at events. I helped to arrange a concert. The volunteer team had its own account in a bank at that time, and took care of accounting by themselves. We had a study meeting where we invited a lecturer, through making use of profits from events. I think volunteers were actively moving around by themselves. While doing those activities, I came to think that I would like to see a local scene! Ethiopia was the most interesting to me, since I often listened to lectures about it.

I was getting more interested in Ethiopia. However, I couldn’t easily obtain paid leaves from my company. I couldn’t go to Ethiopia. It made me gloomy. I had a lot of uncertainties and troubles in making up my mind. But I got advice from a volunteer friend. “Please consider which is more painful, to regret something you have done or regret something you haven’t done.” I thought “it would be more painful to me if I regretted not having done what I liked to do but having sought security of my livelihood.” I dared to quit my company after having worked for 6 years. I lost no time to decide to go to Ethiopia and stayed there for one month. I was received at JVC’s local representative’s home.

Ms. Ishikawa on the right on the rear row. This photo was taken at a study meeting with lodging together, organized by the African Volunteer Team. They enjoyed themselves and studied hard.

I enjoyed doing volunteer work at JVC’s local office and living in Ethiopia. I consulted JVC’s local representative and decided to extend my stay. I had no reason to go back to Japan, since I had no job there (she laughs). I actually went to Japan once, but came back to Ethiopia and stayed two years in total.

What did you do in Ethiopia?

Surrounded by friends at the vegetable shop, where she regularly went on weekends. She learned local language there little by little. Her long-cherished dream to live in Ethiopia was realized.

I did office work, such as communicating with Tokyo Office, or sorting out receipts for accounting. I also worked as a saleswoman at a vegetable store in private time. I learned Ethiopian culture, custom, and language there. I really enjoyed going there on weekends, relaxing myself, eating provided meals, selling vegetables and everyday goods, and having a chat. I returned back to Japan after staying in Ethiopia for one year and a half. After that, I was asked, “Could you help us in closing the office in Ethiopia?” Therefore, I went to Ethiopia as a temporary staff member for the third time. It was never a pleasant task to close it. There was a woman who had been supporting JVC as a housekeeper for a long time. She knelt down on the ground and kissed me on the feet in sandals. She asked me, “Please give me a job, or find a job for our son!” I was totally shocked and have never forgot it yet.

When I returned back to Japan after having finished the task, General Secretary asked me, “Could you take up Secretariat of the Concert Project?” I had never been interested in taking a job in international cooperation or being employed by a NGO. However, as I had been involved in JVC as a volunteer for a long time, I had become sympathetic with the principle and activities of this organization. It was also a job related to the concert, which gave me the first opportunity to meet international cooperation and JVC. I promptly answered, “Yes, I do.”

You have two little children. How are you coping with both work and home well?

Her partner, Mr. Shimoda, is in charge of JVC’s Thai projects. Their children come to some events for pleasure, joining in JVC together.

JVC is properly listening to the voice of staff members and taking it into consideration. When you bring up a child, for example, JVC considers and offers optimum working conditions. In this regard, I’m not so much concerned about keeping work and home compatible or improving their balance. I’m pleased with the atmosphere and working system of JVC, which enable us to do childcare without actively asking for supports. I’m thankful to my colleagues in this regard.

I work for JVC not to get salaries but to do activities as my lifelong goal. My current situation gives me the fulfillment that “I’m involved in international cooperation.” People talk about work-life-balance, but I don’t consider work and life separately, because JVC’s activities are included in my life itself. Therefore, it is not necessary for me to mind their balance.

Finally, please tell me about the interesting points and highlights of the JVC’s Concert for International Cooperation.

This concert has been held in Tokyo for 27 years, and in Osaka for 22 years. As we value the quality of music, you can enjoy its performance apart from the theme of international cooperation. Of course, it is very important that the concert makes us involved in international cooperation. We receive audiences’ impressions after the performance every year. Many of them say that they understand the message of the concert. I think it is because the performers understand the cause and they are aware of the reason why they are singing. They are sending messages with their singing voices. Volunteers besides staff members help a lot at the concert. Every day, I feel that this concert is constantly supported by many people. Please come to the concert!

I wish this concert would give people the opportunity to become interested in international cooperation and take a step forward. I myself took a step forward by going to the JVC’s concert. It consequently let me participate in activities for international cooperation, work for it, find a husband (she laughs), and make a family. I suppose that the 10,000 yen, which I paid for the concert ticket in my student days, was a cheap price for the amount of happiness it brought to my life (she smiles). Even now I clearly remember where I was seated at the concert.

-[My impression after the interview]

Her smile is so bright as Mr. Ikeda calls her “The Sun of JVC”!

Ms. Ishikawa has been putting her idea into action every time when she thought of doing it, and has been lived a life together with JVC. She plays with her children and bakes cakes on holidays. Only few women are so strong in mind and feminine like her. Her smile is absolutely brilliant and makes surroundings brighter. My term of intern will end soon in March, 2016. I feel my mind urged to step forward by absorbing the fascination of interviewees as much as possible! (Shimizu)

-[Notice for the next interview!]

Guess who he is. Ms. Ishikawa admires him for having a good voice suitable for singing. His beard is a hint.

Ms. Ishikawa says, “He is most suitable for singing at JVC. His voice is so good. He precisely understands every situation and plays his role accordingly.” He is the next interviewee. Don’t miss it!

* The order of uploading the English version of “Staff Interview” is random and hence different from the order of the original Japanese version. We are sorry, but the person coming next may be different from the “next person to be interviewed” mentioned in the text.

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