Japan, Lauren

Lauren Volunteered as a Carer in Japan

Most people my age rush through the transition of school to university to career, not thinking that they can pause for a moment and really experience the world, so I am thankful that I have had this opportunity and that through the help of this organisation, others will do the same.

My typical day in Japan began with rushing to get breakfast in the dining hall of Harima Home and hurriedly eating the fried egg/banana/ ham and spinach (and ALWAYS some jam on toast!) in the staff room, before rushing off to the independent living section of Harima Home, ‘’Rose House’’, to help with the breakfast care. The Japanese have an almost religious view of time keeping, and so we often had to race to be there at 8:25 with a smile on our faces.

In Rose House, I’d prepare coffee and breakfast for the 8 residents, whilst aiding people to take medicine if required. On my first day, I was taught how to feed Aota-San, who had to be helped due to his epilepsy preventing him from holding his head still to eat. Initially, I was terrified – I’d never done this kind of thing before and I didn’t want to spill hot coffee on him if he jerked the straw too fast. But, Aota-San’s encouraging smile and his daily bellowing of ‘Thank You’ in English made us firm friends and boosted my confidence, and he would always make sure that it was me who helped him in the mornings (and woe betide any staff who got in his way!) Gradually, I got to know all the residents in Rose House, celebrating New Year’s Day together with a feast of traditional sushi.
At 9:15 am, I’d say goodbye to Rose House and walk back over to the main building to board the minibus to Shiso Home (affectionately called the ‘’Shiso Bus’’). The Shiso Bus drives backwards and forwards between Shiso and Harima Homes every day, swapping residents between the Homes for activities and programmes (and also just taking residents for a drive who wanted to get out and about).

The bus would bring Lee (another Lattitude volunteer) from Shiso Home, who would then spend the day working with Julia at Harima Home, whilst I would go to Shiso Home to work with Luke (also a Lattitude volunteer).

At Shiso Home, my duties mainly involved running arts and crafts programmes – paper collages, making 3D sculptures, calendars and wall displays. In addition, once a week Luke and I organised our own project. We did things such as baking, English lessons, day trips out to scenic walks, film days and bowling competitions. Our key aim was resident participation, as many were mentally handicapped, so we focused on simple ideas designed to stimulate their senses.
Initially, I struggled to see the individual underneath the disability at Shiso Home – many residents struggled to interact with those around them. However, once I had settled into my stride, their vivid personalities began shining though. You always hear about people becoming instantly gratified with their work whenever they receive a positive response from someone but I had never really understood it until this point. The really fulfilling moments are very difficult to put into words .

At 3:00pm, I’d set back off to Harima Home, with a stop on the way over to help load the Shiso Bus with bread from the bakery. The staff at the Bakery were really lovely people – they’d often give me a bag full of goodies to take back and share with the other volunteers! Also, once a month, I’d escort residents from Shiso Home to the Bakery, which also included a section where they sold handmade goods, made by the volunteers and residents. Usually, the work involved helping the residents paint holiday themed woodcraft objects (such as pumpkins or candy canes), followed by an outing in the afternoon to the local cultural interests (such as the old Samurai Castle outpost or Shinto Temple).

I picked up many skills whilst in Japan: arts and crafts; care for the disabled; social networking in a foreign country; how to cope under extreme pressure and stress; how to look after myself and keep a home and also rudimentary Japanese.

Without the Lattitude Bursary Scheme, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to undertake my placement, so for that, they have my sincerest thanks.