On 1st April 2023, ”JISR Friendly Reunion” of Japanese Initiative for the future of Syrian Refugees (JISR), the first event to bring together participants from Batch 1 through 5, took place in JICA Tokyo. Out of the 51 graduates who have completed the JISR program, 34 graduates from across the country gathered with 45 family members to enjoy the interaction with 15 participants and their families!
In the first part, as an introduction of activities to "Connect Syria and Japan," the activities of the Syria OV Association, which is organized mainly by Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers alumni who were dispatched to Syria in the past, and the representative of BonZuttner Co., Ltd. of which the second batch JISR graduate working as an operating officer, were introduced.
Mr. Ken Morino and Ms. Masumi Kobayashi from Syria OV Association of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers shared the association’s profile and various activities, such as Japanese language study support for spouses of JISR participants, academic support for Syrian students, and networking event for Syrians.
Some of the participants had participated in the events before, and some had spouses who had been getting opportunities to study Japanese with them, but those who haven’t had chance to know their activities before were delighted to learn that people who had lived in their home countries were participating activities while valuing the connection with Syria. Many of them were interested in the Japanese language learning opportunities offered by the association, and expressed their interests to participate in its activities.
Mr. Morino sharing the activities of Syria Old Volunteers Association
The next speakers were Mr. Yuki Sakashita, representative of BonZuttner Co., Ltd. and Mr. Iskandar Salama (the second batch graduate), the operating officer. Mr. Sakashita introduced the message behind the company name*, the company's mission of “Transform ‘displaced issue’ into a ‘social asset.’”, and the company's business model, which contributes to job creation in Syria by outsourcing work ordered by Japanese companies to engineers living in Syria. He also mentioned the company's contribution donating 5% of its sales to "Japan Bridge," a fund-raising project launched by Syrians living in Japan, including JISR graduates, in response to the "Turkey-Syria Earthquake" that occurred in February 2023.
Mr. Sakashita introducing BonZuttner Co., Ltd.（Right: Mr. Iskandar）
Mr. Iskandar first introduced various web and newspaper articles about activities of JISR participants, such as internships in Japanese companies, cultural exchange event in Japanese community, and making documentary films about Great East Japan Earthquake and Hiroshima Atomic Bomb in Arabic. He also brought up some participants who play active roles in their companies. Then he delivered a message, “We, who have refugee background, have many possibilities. As those good examples I mentioned, one person can achieve great things, but when we all work together, we can achieve more impactful things.” As a proof of it, he shared an overview of Japan Bridge’s activities to provide housing to people in northeastern Syria affected by the "Turkey-Syria Earthquake" and the efforts and achievements accomplished by Japan Bridge to date. At last, he talked passionately that "Each participant in the JISR program is a unique success story by itself. You were selected from over a hundred of applicants, passed a series of selections to finally land in Japan and obtain your master's degree. This journey alone is a remarkable and inspiring achievement.
AND now, standing here in Japan, it's our mission to reveal to the Japanese people that we, the Syrians, are far more than our refugee origins. We're active contributors to this society, determined to make our mark wherever we go and shape a future full of passion.” Applause with agreement and empathy erupted from the participants.
The participants were then divided into five groups to discuss the ideas on the theme of "What we can do to connect Syria and Japan". Each group presented their ideas either in English or Japanese after the discussion. Many diverse ideas were brought up, but the most common topics were cultural exchange to deepen mutual understanding between Syria and Japan, activities for reconstruction and economic development in Syria, educational activities including learning Japanese, and support for JISR participants (and Syrian nationals living in Japan).
For example, there was a proposal to present Syrian food, music, dance, clothing, history, etc. at events held in cooperation with their workplaces, communities, JICA, and the Syrian OV Association to deepen the understanding of Syrian culture among Japanese people. There was also a unique idea to translate Syrian and Japanese dramas and introduce them to each other.
One group shared idea for mid- to long-term cooperation with JICA, such as learning about earthquake resistance, disaster prevention, peacebuilding, urban planning and development (traffic systems, traffic signals, guide blocks for the visually impaired, etc.) from Japanese experts and promoting them in Syria. There were also some expectations for JICA assistance in expanding Japanese language learning opportunities, providing employment support for spouses, and offering Arabic language education opportunities for children.
I believe that by doing what they can do, little by little, they will be able to achieve the program's goal of "building a bridge between Syria and Japan". JICA also would like to think what we can do.
Group Works : Writing their own ideas to the papers
Presenting the ideas from each group
Second part was the reception for JISR participants and their families.
The graduates from Batch 1 to 3, who have completed graduate school and are on a new path in Japanese society, updated each other about their work and family life in Japan, while Batch 4 and 5, who are still in graduate school and can only imagine about their future, heard actual experiences from seniors and were inspired. All children who participated in the reception have shown great growth since their arrival in Japan. The spouses of the participants introduced their newly born children and updated on their recent activities, chatting with each other to make up for the long period of time they had been away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Support Team members, who had been in charge of providing employment support to the participants on online, also joined and enjoyed talking face-to-face for the first time with the participants.
Many of the participants and their families expressed their gratitude and joy at the event, saying that it was a wonderful opportunity. They also expressed their hope that the meeting would be held more regularly in the future to strengthen the bonds among JISR participants and their relationship with JICA. The fact that we were able to get together in this way after a period of restricted contact with others due to the COVID-19 pandemic brought us invaluable joy.
The unprecedented program to accept Syrians with refugee backgrounds as international students in Japan had always been a series of challenges and trial-and-error experiences, but six years have passed since the program began, and as a person in charge of the program, I am more than happy to see the graduates living strongly and robustly at their respective stages after the program.
Some participants told us that the second stage in Japan after the end of the program was not an easy way but full of hardships. Nevertheless, they told us that they are continuing to work hard, to put themselves in a new environment, and to take on new challenges in order to move forward on a better path. One participant, who entered a doctoral program at his own expense after completing the program and will enter the workforce this year, had full of hope in his eyes, while another participant, who had a new child, spoke of his sense of responsibility and his desire to work even harder. As Mr. Iskandar said, the fact that JISR participants are here in Japan, learning, and living is the achievement of the program itself. However, this event was one in which all the attendants in this meeting confirmed their will to go even further, to work together, and to strive to be a "bridge" for their home countries and for the development of relations between their home countries and Japan.
Left：Mr. Anas, Second Left：Ms. Kasai from UNHCR Representation in Japan
Second Right：Mr. Sakashita from BonZuttner Co., Ltd, Right: Mr. Iskandar from BonZuttner Co., Ltd
(Airi Nakazawa /JICA Domestic Strategy and Partnership Department/University Partnership Division )