Scarred by the experience of war and tested by the demands of postwar reconstruction, Japan saw among her people the rising spirit of mutual help and commitment to peace and understanding in the world. A sterling example of this spirit is the community of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), a program established in 1965 under the aegis of what is now known as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). For two years, JOCV volunteers actually live in local communities abroad, share Japanese knowledge while respecting local customs, and carry out projects of benefit to their host communities. Living, working, and thinking together with the local community are the core principles underpinning the JOCV volunteers’ experience..
These young volunteers, typically under 40 years old, are screened, matched to the needs of countries where they are to be deployed, and trained in the language and culture of their host country. Areas of volunteer work span 190 fields of specialization including education, social welfare, sports development, health care, environment, agriculture, manufacturing, public works, and governance. To date, a total of 40,997 volunteers (half of them women) have been sent to 88 countries, with the greatest numbers deployed in Asia and Africa.
There are many thousands of examples in which young Japanese men and women voluntarily immersed themselves in other cultures, and helped the people and communities to which they were deployed. JOCV volunteers have improved lives, induced behavioral change, and transferred knowledge to partners in many countries. At the same time, the volunteers themselves have been enriched with experiences they brought home and shared with others, thus deepening and widening the spheres of cultural understanding within Japan itself.
Often, big infrastructure projects are the most visible signs of Japan’s bilateral development partnerships. However it is the people-to-people interactions that JOCV volunteers have built and maintained over the years that represent the most humane, meaningful, and enduring forms of international cooperation. A volunteer, who worked in Benguet, Philippines in the 1960s, summed up the priceless lesson of the JOCV experience saying, “From working with communities, I learned the value of being a human being.”