AREE’S TWO WEEKS – Our Iraqi partner’s visit to Japan –

[Ghamra RIFAI, Iraq Project (December 13, 2018)]

INSAN Iraqi Society works to build peace through building peace capacities of individuals and of civil society, enhancing good governance and participatory decision-making processes to ensure fair participation of all community components, as well as empowering communities through knowledge and development to ensure coexistence and cohesion.

In 2008 JVC started cooperation with INSAN to introduce peaceful thinking to the Iraqi society through children. The cooperation started with JVC providing funds for peace building workshops for children in Kirkuk in Iraq and as the time has passed the project has developed to creating a place for children in which they can be themselves without worrying about the security situation, a safe environment in which children can “open their hearts”. And they can receive emotional and psychological support.

To improve the cooperation between INSAN and JVC, staff from both organizations meet either in Iraq or Japan as frequently as possible. And when the Iraqi staff visits Japan we take the opportunity to introduce Iraq as well as our activities to Japanese people around the country. Additionally we provide nonviolence training for the Iraqi staff through holding workshops and inviting an expert of nonviolence training. This year too, to deepen the relationship with our partner organization and to introduce our activities to Japanese people, we invited the president of the organization to visit Japan.

Between October 19th and November 5th the president of INSAN, Mr. Aree Jabari, has visited Japan for the sixth time. In addition to participating in cultural exchange and other events with the Japanese people, he shared stories of the Iraqi children of Kirkuk and talked about their struggle with phycological trauma and stress of continuing conflict.

Our schedule was packed with many events and emotional moments. Everywhere Aree went he drew tears and smiles on people’s faces.

Cultural exchange in Nirasaki.

On October 21st we hopped on a train to Anayama town, Yamanashi prefecture, where Aree gave a lecture about the situation in Iraq today and explained our activities in Iraq. The weather was very clear and having the chance to see Mt. Fuji so close for the first time, Aree’s face was bright with a big smile, for a person who has seen so much conflict and pain. Aree has a very positive approach to life, which reflects in his interactions with children in Iraq and also in Japan. The same night we went to a cultural exchange event in a youth center in Nirasaki city. After hearing about the activities, the young people of the center gave us many pieces of advice: working with children, including them in decision-making process, giving them a sense of responsibility, and pushing them to interact better among each other. It was very valuable to hear solutions from young people.

Next day on October 22nd we headed to Eiwa Junior High School in Kofu city to give a lecture in the international studies class. After listening to the explanation of our activities and the history of war and conflict in Iraq, the girls wrote notes and made some drawings for Iraqi children.

The next event was a big one for both of us. We participated in a symposium at Sophia University, where we were able to share our experiences with conflict and peace building. The event had the highest attendance during the UN week held at Sophia University. Most of the audience was young people, mostly university and high school students. The event was a success not only from the point of view of participation, but when the event was over the audience couldn’t have enough of the questions to the speakers. For many of them it was the first time to hear the direct voice of a person from the conflict zone without the filters of media. Therefore it was a very precious chance for them.

In the later days in Tokyo Aree was busy in meetings reporting the situation and making plans for the next year. His last 2 events in Tokyo were Iraq café in which he spoke about his home Iraq outside the lens of war and destruction. He especially elaborated about the diversity of Iraqi food in connection to the social diversity. We also had a communication workshop in which Aree with the previous Iraq project officer Mr. Ikeda facilitated a communication session using nonviolence approach.

Aree cooking in Tonami.

On October 29th we headed to Tonami city in Toyama prefecture, where Aree was the chief at an Iraqi cooking event. He prepared Makulubeh, a famous Middle Eastern dish, and lentil soup. And while having lunch he talked to the participants about the food culture in Iraq and exchanged casual conversation with Tonami people regarding the cultures of the two countries, Japan and Iraq. In the evening of the same day Aree talked to Tonami people with more details about his work in Iraq and the current situation of Iraq.

Next trip October 31 was to report to donors in Tsu city in Mie prefecture. Aree spoke in the monthly luncheon of Tsu Rotary Club about Peace Yard and at night he had a nice private party with the members of the club who renewed their desire to support Iraq project as long as necessary.

Luncheon speech at Tsu Rotary Club.

In his speech at luncheon Aree talked about the situation of education in Iraq how the schools lack the most essential facilities and how kids don’t have the chance to play in an open outdoor environment. His speech touch the heart of Mr. Kanda, a rotary club member, and he later invited us to tour his son’s elementary school. The school was built right after the war. Aree was emotional entire time. The vast difference between the schools in Iraq and Japan was very painful for him but pushing sadness away, he expressed that this chance is very valuable for him to learn from Japanese schools. The school staff was very nice to us despite our surprising visit. They kept asking if there is anything they could do for us and later they gave us a chance to visit the class of Mr. Kanda’s son. Mr. Kanda told us later that his son, when came back home, explained to his mother everything we said.

Talking to elementary school children in Tsu city.

The last trip was to Niigata city where we recreated Iraq Café on the same content. The people in Niigata were eager to know more about Mesopotamia that they studied in history books. And finally we hosted our 5th workshop on nonviolence training with professor Sasaki from Niigata International Information University. The workshop was a valuable chance for Aree to introduce our Peace Yard to the people of Niigata. In the workshop we worked together with the participants to create new activities that can be applied in Iraq to facilitate communication among children and to convey the spirit of cooperation. Participants introduced child games in Japan like rubber jump, which, to our surprise, was also a game that girls in Iraq play as well.

In Niigata after Iraq Café.

The two weeks Aree has spent in Japan passed like a dream; it felt long at times and short at other. These two weeks were very important for us in the Iraq project as a team, since we don’t have a local office and we have too little chance to work together in the same place. And it was a valuable chance to promote our activities around the country. Having the chance to promote our work and introduce Iraq in many parts of the country is very important for raising the awareness about Iraq and to encourage donations for the Iraq projects. As a staff member of JVC I would be very pleased if you could invite us to your city to talk about Iraq and introduce it for general public and to introduce our project to as many people as possible. The future of Iraq changes when the children believe that they can make a difference and for that we need to be able to deliver this message to all the children, therefore every action counts.

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