"My name is Miyuki Takakura.
I am a preschool teacher.
I teach in Teldeniya.
I have been in Sri Lanka for one and a half years".
I was stunned to hear the charming young Japanese woman speak to me in fluent Sinhala.
She was a volunteer from Japan. She was in Sri Lanka under the technical co-operation programme of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA, the implementing agency for Japan's bilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Japanese volunteers have been coming to Sri Lanka since 1981.Over 880Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and 62 Senior Volunteers have served in various parts of the country.
JICA's volunteers are highly trained and qualified professionals. They work at grass-rootslevel to cater to the needs of the host country effectively.
Such assistance at local level results in sharing of knowledge and skills, in deepening the understanding of cultures and traditions; and most importantly, building genuine friendships between volunteers and hosts.
The volunteers work in partnership with their counterparts; in line with the objectives and policies of host organizations. The terms and conditions of the volunteer programme are based on an agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of Sri Lanka.
My meeting with Miyuki provided exciting glimpses into the programme.
Q: What made you decide on pre- school teaching as a career?
A: When I myself was a preschool kid in Tochigi, Japan, I loved my preschool teacher. She was my role model. I dreamed of becoming like her some day. I also love children. So I obtained aDipromain Preschool education at the Shohoku College, Japan.
Q: Why did you become a JICA volunteer?
A: I saw a JICA poster for Volunteers at my school when I was just 13 years old. So I dreamed another dream, to become a JICA volunteer after I become a preschool teacher and serve in a far away land. I am thrilled that both my childhood dreams have come true!
Q: What was the selection process for volunteers?
A: The process was very competitive. A large number applied. Only a few were selected after a stringent test and interview. They also checked our healthand English language skills.
Q: How was it decided for you to come to Sri Lanka?
A: JICA offered me the opportunity to come to Sri Lanka as there was a need for volunteers in the preschool education sector in Sri Lanka. I had heard of Sri Lanka before. I was overjoyed! .
Q: Did you undergo any training before you were sent?
A: We underwent intensive training for 2 months at the Komagane Training Centre, Japan. We learned many things including the culture, traditions and religions of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala language. My Sinhala language teacher in Japan, SiripalaWeerakoon was excellent. After coming to Sri Lanka, we underwent further training prior to being sent to our postings.
Q: What do you do in Teldeniya now?
A: I am attached to Zonal Education Office, Teldeniya. There are 150 preschools in Teldeniya. I visit these preschools and help them. I live with the family of a retired school principal,. His wife is a retired Maths teacher. They have a tiny grandson called Sasumatha. They are very kind to me like my own family. I am extremely happy and so lucky to live with them!
Q: What do you like about Sri Lanka?
A: Almost everything. I love the people. They are so friendly. I love the children. They are outgoing and smart. I love the food. I am so used to spicy food now. I can't do without it. I also love the culture and Buddhism. I visit the temple with my host family.
Q: What do you feel about the preschools in Teldeniya?
A : The teachers love the children like their own children. Although some schools have economic hardships and lack facilities unlike schools in Japan, the children are well cared for. I introduce techniques such as howto utilizewater effectively and how to be clean when there is water scarcity. In Japan, teachers are active and play together with the kids. In Sri Lanka, teachers tend to watch, whilst the children play. Sri Lankan teachers sometimes use formal methods of teaching. I encourage them to teach through play and engage in physical activity together with the children. I also encourage them to teach concepts through song and dance.
Q: Apart from teaching what else have you been doing in Sri Lanka
A:I participated in Galle Children's Festival to conduct music workshop with other volunteers. . I am also engaged in making a CD with translations into Sinhala, Tamil and English of Japanese children's songs. These songs are geared to teach basic lessons to the children.
Q: Have you visited any parts of Sri Lanka?
A: I have travelled to many places... Sigiriya, Dambulla, Hikkaduwa, Wild life sanctuaries....I have climbed Shree Pada several time. There is a Japanese Buddhist temple there too. We Japanese like to see the rising sun the first thing on the first day of the year. So I have seen the sun rise at Shree Pada on January first. I think that Sri Lanka is an outstanding beautiful country. It has rich potential for tourism.
Q: What is your main recommendation for preschool development in Sri Lanka?
A: The regulatory frame work for preschools should be developed. There should be a common policy to govern standards in preschools. It should be mandatory for preschools to have basic facilities like water and toilets and adhere to standards in hygiene, safety and environment. This is effective in Japan.
Q: You have already fulfilled your two dreams, do you have other dreams?
A: I have six months left of my stay in Sri Lanka. My dream is to further my studies and experience in preschool education on my return to Japan. Then I dream of coming back to Sri Lanka again someday as a senior volunteer!
I wished Miyuki the very best for the rest of her stay in Sri Lanka and that her next dream will also come true.
I was deeply touched by the sincerity and commitment of this young Japanese woman. I felt that though the volunteers programme, JICA has brought the Japanese people very close to the hearts of the people of Sri Lanka and has built strong bridges of mutual respect, friendship and trust.