3. Embracing the Power of Connection: A Scholar’s Unforgettable Tsudoi Experience

Embracing the Power of Connection: A Scholar’s Unforgettable Tsudoi Experience

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a challenging period filled with isolation and uncertainty, Ashinaga recently hosted its long-awaited Tsudoi, a gathering for Ashinaga Scholars from all corners of Japan. This event marked the first time that Scholars could come together in three years, fostering personal bonds and discussing their individual and professional growth. This year’s Tsudoi occurred in the picturesque seaside town of Shirako in Chiba.

The Tsudoi was divided into two unique events. The first, conducted in Japanese, spanned from February 24th to the 28th and focused on the connections, well-being, and emotional growth of all Ashinaga Scholars. The second, held from March 1st to the 5th, was conducted in English and centered around the Ashinaga Africa Initiative Scholars, guiding them toward becoming African leaders.

During this gathering, we talked to Joan, a first-year Scholar in the Discovery Program for Global Learners at Okayama University. Joan, who hails from an agrarian community in Kenya, arrived in Japan through the Ashinaga Africa Initiative in 2021. She lost her mother to illness at the age of 14. Her Kokorozashi is to utilize the knowledge and experience gained through her tertiary studies to create greater awareness and access to quality healthcare in her community.

Joan attended both “Shirako-no-Tsudoi” in Japanese and “AAI Tsudoi” in English, experiencing the event for the first time. Reflecting on attending the Tsudoi held in Japanese, she admitted, “When I first received the invitation, I did not know what to expect. Being less fluent in Japanese made me wonder if I could make friends.” However, during the Tsudoi, Joan forged new friendships and made profound realizations about her life and mission. “Having experienced the trauma of losing a parent, it is easy to feel scared and alone. Meeting others my age who have endured similar experiences and sharing our dreams and passions provided immense reassurance. As an international student, I rarely witness the vulnerable side of my Japanese counterparts and the strength they possess to overcome challenges. At Tsudoi, I felt seen, heard, and understood, just as I saw, heard, and understood my counterparts for the first time. It was truly life changing.”

Compassion has always been a driving force in Joan’s life. Growing up in Narok County on the vast plains of the Rift Valley, she witnessed firsthand the profound impact of isolation on people’s lives and livelihoods. In particular, she speaks of concerns about access to medical care by marginalized communities and households in far-flung rural settlements. Shortly after completing her high school education, she volunteered at a local hospital, shadowing doctors, and delving into the problems and complexities faced by her community. “There were instances where parents trekked for hours with a sick child on their back just to book an appointment with a doctor. Sometimes, we had to reach out to remote locations to check in on patients who were too weak to travel the long distance to the hospital. This made me ponder how many lives are lost each day simply because adequate medical services are inaccessible or unavailable.” Recognizing the need for change within her community, Joan resolved to study the policies and procedures that contribute to community development. However, the costs and logistical challenges of obtaining an education in this field created a barrier between her and her dreams. “When accepted into the Ashinaga Africa Initiative, my joy knew no bounds. I saw it as the beginning of a new chapter in my life, where I could become the kind of changemaker I had always hoped to see in my community.”

At university, Joan dedicates herself to her studies with unwavering determination, not only aiming to acquire academic knowledge but also to immerse herself in Japanese culture and learn from her experiences. She recognizes Japan’s history as a story of resilience, with valuable lessons to be learned from its growth trajectory following tragedy and disaster. Joan desires to delve deeper into development and sustainability, exploring ways to change her community positively. In addition to her interest in providing better access to medical care, she is captivated by the sustainable farming practices she has observed during her studies in Japan and hopes to incorporate them into her community development plans in Kenya.

Reflecting on this year’s Tsudoi, Joan shares, “I experienced a sense of community and belonging that I didn’t even realize I needed. Interacting with my Japanese counterparts reminded me that, despite growing up in different parts of the world, we share similarities in our dreams, hopes, and aspirations that bind us together. I have been reminded of the value of a helping hand from someone who truly understands your experience. I hope to keep this motivation alive and apply it to my community projects. Thanks to the support and contributions of Ashinaga-san, I have had these transformative experiences that will shape my role in creating a better future for my community. I aim to pay this kindness forward by creating avenues for future generations to have healthy and fulfilling childhoods.”

Joan’s unwavering dedication and compassionate nature pave the way for a brighter future for her and the community she serves. We will continue to encourage and support her as she continues her four-year journey in pursuit of her mission to become a future changemaker.

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