My hometown is Yamanouchi in Nagano Prefecture in Japan. As the site of the Shiga Highland UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, our town aims to be a place where human beings and nature can coexist in abundance. We also concentrate on achieving human rights, peace, and social welfare. Maybe for that reason, I felt that I wanted to do something for the good of my town. The year I entered junior high school, Yamanouchi Junior High was accepted into the UNESCO Associated Schools Network. In school we work on ESD (Education for Sustainable Development), and in the student council, we run activities for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In my first year (Grade 7), I joined the Community Outreach Committee, which focuses on activities related to social welfare, human rights, and peace. I am still active with the committee today.
I would like to share with everyone the thoughts I had about ‘kindness’ in the context of the Outreach Committee’s activities. In April of my first year, when I first joined the committee, our project was collecting plastic bottle caps. Every Wednesday and Thursday morning, we gathered at the school entrance. We collected not only bottle caps, but also empty aluminum cans and old stamps. Each week, we measured the weight and the number of items we had collected, and announced it to the school. This work was surprisingly hard and I was quite tired, but at the same time it made me happy and gave me a sense of accomplishment to see how much we had collected. The plastic bottle caps were donated to help pay for vaccines for children around the world. The aluminum cans were sold, and at the end of the school year the money was used to buy walkers for the elderly or other equipment, which we donated to a local seniors’ home. When we received a letter of thanks from the elderly people at the home, it made me so happy… I felt that I had been able to do even a little something for the good of the town. Our next activity was ‘heartwarming lunch letters’. The town’s Welfare Council made box lunches for elderly people living alone, to help brighten their spirits. Our group wrote letters about our school life and attached them to the covers of the boxes. We used nice handwriting and wrote many letters to send the elderly people good feelings. In May, the school principle presented the responses to this activity. The elderly people said that we helped put them in good spirits, and that the content of our letters was wonderful. When I heard this, it renewed my fondness for this activity.
The last example I want to share is an activity where we collected miswritten postcards to raise money for prosthetic legs for people in Rwanda. In the winter of my first year at junior high, Gatera Rudasingwa and his wife Mami, the directors of the Mulindi/Japan One Love Project, came to give a talk at our school. From 1990 to 1993 there was a civil war in Rwanda, and large numbers of people were massacred, while many others lost arms and legs. Gatera and Mami are continually making prosthetic legs for people who lost their legs in the war. At the beginning of their talk, I was just listening casually, but as I became absorbed in it, I felt a strong sense of dread and a hatred of war. At the same time, I also felt great respect for these two people who have been making prosthetic legs. After the talk, I wondered if there was something we could do to help in their work, and that’s how we started collecting miswritten postcards. The Community Outreach Committee steadily collected the postcards up until the fall of my second year, and then we sent them to Mr. Rudaswinga. Later, we received a reply that they were able to make a prosthetic leg for one person. Our activities had reached beyond Japan’s borders and helped someone in Rwanda. Needless to say, this gave me great joy and a real sense of accomplishment. Through these activities, I realized that there is kindness we can see, and kindness we can’t see. The walker we donated, the lunch letters we wrote, and the prosthetic leg that was made—these are kindnesses we can see. What supports these acts of kindness is the day-to-day thoughtfulness of each individual. Even though we can’t see the results of our thoughtfulness right away, I hope to continue holding this kind of thoughtfulness in my heart.
To be completely honest, being kind is often exhausting. When the world seems to be against me, I get bitter and wonder what use it is to be nice to anyone. I lose interest in making others’ days brighter, and focus on my own dark and cloudy day. I have found that, though I am kind to someone, they may never return the favour. I now realize I shouldn’t expect something in return. When someone shows kindness, it should be from the heart, knowing that it may not come back to them. The real pleasure is the feeling of warmth after helping someone. However, it takes will-power and strength to be kind. I find myself growing tired and cranky when under stress, making it harder to be kind to somebody. That is why it takes commitment to continue the chain of kindness, to ensure that the cycle of spite is not perpetuated. I feel, to make a real impact through kindness, I must create a like-minded group that promotes deliberate acts of kindness wherever possible. We would support each other, to prevent the feeling of isolation in an endeavor of kindness, to remove the sting when kindness is met with viciousness, and to help each other remain constant in kindness. It is this consistency that makes a difference; a conscious choice to be the ray of sunshine in a dark cavern, and illuminate it. Only then can we see the impact of our actions.
NOTE: This story is not really about me but about somebody else whom I cannot mention.