- The program started in 1965 with five volunteers who were sent to Laos, and then expanded its reach to Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and other countries.
- Areas of volunteer work span 190 fields of specialization in education, social welfare, health care, environmental sustainability, agriculture, manufacturing, public works, sports, and governance.
- The work of JOCV volunteers improved lives, induced behavioral change, and transferred knowledge and skills to partners and communities in many countries.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “the volunteers for their idealism and spirit of service in advancing the lives of communities other than their own, demonstrating over five decades that it is indeed when people live, work, and think together that they lay the true foundation for peace and international solidarity.”
Scarred by the experience of war, transcending the demands of postwar reconstruction, and emerging into an era of prosperity, Japan saw rising among her people the spirit of mutual help, volunteerism, and commitment to the values of peace and understanding in the world. A sterling example of this spirit is the JAPAN OVERSEAS COOPERATION VOLUNTEERS (JOCV), a program established in 1965 by the Japanese government under its Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency (renamed Japan International Cooperation Agency). Now on its 51st year, JOCV aimed to contribute to the reconstruction and progress of developing countries, strengthen friendship and mutual understanding between these countries and Japan, and cultivate among the Japanese themselves the values of volunteerism, self-reliance, and a broad, cross-cultural understanding of other nations.
Japanese volunteers, aged 20 to 39, are screened, matched to the needs of countries where they are deployed, trained in the language and culture of the host country, monitored in their field performance, and given post-assignment support in terms of career counseling and job placement on their return to Japan. For two years, volunteers live in their assigned local communities, learn and speak the local language, share Japanese knowledge while respecting local customs, and carry out activities of socioeconomic improvement with an emphasis on building self-reliance and mutual understanding. Living, working, and thinking together with the local community are the core principles of the volunteer experience.
The program started in 1965 with five volunteers who were sent to Laos, and then expanded its reach to Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and other countries. As of 2015, 40,997 volunteers, close to half of them women, had been sent to 88 countries, with the greatest numbers going to countries in Asia and Africa. Areas of volunteer work span 190 fields of specialization in education, social welfare, health care, environmental sustainability, agriculture, manufacturing, public works, sports, and governance. Significantly, over time more experienced senior volunteers, and short-term deployments of less than one year were included.
In Laos, Japanese volunteers assisted a provincial handicraft center in the design and marketing of products in a project aimed at reducing the villagers’ reliance on poppy farming. In Ghana, a volunteer who worked with Toyota in Japan helped locals with on-the-job training in automotive repair and a car assembly shop. In Bangladesh, a succession of a hundred volunteers over a ten-year period improved the preventive polio vaccination rate and eradicated polio and filariasis in the country. In the Philippines, volunteers teamed up with local teachers in developing teaching materials and organizing programs to foster interest in science among young Filipinos. These are a few of thousands of examples of the myriad arenas of interaction in which young Japanese men and women voluntarily immersed themselves in other cultures and helped people and communities.
The work of JOCV volunteers improved lives, induced behavioral change, and transferred knowledge and skills to partners and communities in many countries. At the same time, their local immersion enriched them with an experience they brought back to Japan. “Alumni” JOCV volunteers have become leaders in volunteerism and development work, thus deepening and widening the spheres of cultural understanding in Japan itself.
For many, big infrastructure projects are the most visible signs of bilateral development partnerships, but the kind of people-to-people interaction that JOCV volunteers represent is the most humane and meaningful form of international cooperation. In the 1960s, young Hidekazu Kumano lived in Benguet, Philippines, working with farmers to grow thousands of mulberry trees. For decades after, he maintained his friendships with people in Benguet, saying: “From working with communities, I learned the value of being a human being, that I could develop my capacity to accept diversity without losing my core ideas.”
In electing the JAPAN OVERSEAS COOPERATION VOLUNTEERS to receive the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes the volunteers for their idealism and spirit of service in advancing the lives of communities other than their own, demonstrating over five decades that it is indeed when people live, work, and think together that they lay the true foundation for peace and international solidarity.
(JOCV’s response was delivered by Mr. Shinichi Kitaoka, President of Japan International Cooperation Agency [JICA], the government agency running the JOCV program.)
It is a great privilege and honor to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award on behalf of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). This award means so much to me—and I know those sentiments are shared with our dedicated JOCVs who have served across the world.
Japan inflicted immense damage to Asian countries during World War II, including to the Philippines. Since then, Japan has worked hard to give back to the international community in hopes to one day restore its trust.
In 1965, 20 years after the end of the war, Japan established its JOCV Program and deployed its first batch of volunteers to the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Kenya. Back then, anti-Japanese sentiments were strong. Rocks were even thrown at our first volunteers in the Philippines. But through time, the JOCVs became a trusted partner and integral part of the local communities they served.
The volunteers lived and worked with local residents, learned their native languages, and were together in times of both challenge and prosperity. These JOCVs committed themselves to help reduce poverty and improve the livelihoods of their partner countries through social and economic development. They shared their experiences and worked hand-in-hand to contribute through community-based efforts, including in health, education, and social support.
I believe the greatest asset of our volunteers is their ability to foster these relationships on the ground. By establishing personal friendships, JOCVs are able to gain a unique and deep understanding of the society and its needs—all the while respecting local practices and values. It is in this spirit of companionship that JOCVs have helped restore the trust of Japan among Asian countries and integrate it back into the international community.
As our world becomes more globalized, the challenges we face become more diverse and complex. While Asia has made remarkable progress, we still face a myriad of challenges. Whether its economic disparity, poverty, environmental concerns, or so on—we must work together to tackle these challenges.
As our world becomes more interdependent, so must our response. To help meet this need, there are currently 2,068 JOCVs dispatched to 70 countries—575 of them in 18 Asian countries. And thankfully, more of our youth are committing to this cause.
Our JOCV Program celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year, and I cannot overemphasize how much the response to our volunteers has changed over the course of those years. The Ramon Magsaysay Award is a testament to the trust that has been established by each JOCV with their communities. And I am so proud to see how those bonds have strengthened over time. As we look forward to the next fifty years, we will continue to work hand-in-hand to promote grassroots collaboration and further invigorate international trust and cooperation throughout the world.
Thank you again for this great honor.