Sunday, November 28, 2010

Off to India

So, as I have mentioned in a few past blogs, I will be going to India this Christmas break to build homes for the Dalits in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I thought I would finally fill you in on the details.

I will be traveling with about 10 other wonderful members of the Japan Exchange and Teaching program (JET) who currently work as English teachers and coordinators for international relations all over Japan. The project we are taking part in is called Building Communities, a partnership between the U.S.-based non-profit organization Longitude and the Association of Relief Volunteers (ARV), an Indian human rights organization.

The people we will be working with in India are the Dalits otherwise known as the “Untouchables” caste. The Dalits are the lowest members of the legally abolished but still socially practiced Hindu caste system. They also comprise 90% of the poorest of the poor in India. The reason why their poverty situation is particularly difficult to get out of is that although caste-based discrimination has been abolished since 1947, more than 170 million people are still victims of daily prejudice.

Indians of other castes can climb the social and financial ladder to become prosperous and can improve their situation if they wanted to. However, being born a Dalit means that even if you wanted and worked hard, you are restricted to menial jobs, usually of the lowest salary range. Jobs allotted to Dalits include unclogging sewers, making bricks in scorching heat and working as meagerly paid field hands. In many cases they still have to make sure that they never come into physical contact with higher caste people and may even have to ensure that they do not touch anything which is going to be touched by higher caste people. This means that they cannot go near eating places or water sources to not pollute it with their presence.

Because of their poverty and low social status, Dalits do not have adequate access to food, housing, clothing, education or health care. This creates a vicious circle that prevents many Dalits from getting themselves out of poverty.

Association of Relief Volunteers is working to empower them by providing adequate housing, medical necessities, food and water security and the skills necessary to improve their own means through education. Our work and the funds we raise will go towards building family homes and assisting with education programs that aim to improve health and sanitation, food security and proper nutrition, women’s empowerment, Dalit empowerment and helping children complete their educations so they have better chances for progress and upward mobility in their lives and in the lives of future generations.

The group I am going with is accepting donations so when we get there we can make that much more of a difference. I am fully aware of how often I ask for money for all of these little projects I decide to take on, so please don't fee obligated to donate. As we are gearing up for this winter’s trip, we are working hard to raise as much as possible. Any support you can provide is very much appreciated. Please remember that any amount helps- especially in India where $12 can feed a child a glass of milk and an egg everyday for an entire month and $375 can build an entire family a home.

Despite their situation, the Dalit people of Chevuru Village are always smiling and are very hard working people. If we can help provide them with support and an education, I know they can rise against the social discrimination they face everyday and will be able to thrive and stand on their own.

Donations can be made in two ways. The easiest and fastest way is through credit card payment on our group page JET Winter Work Camp

If you are uncomfortable with making a donation online please send your donations to the following address and be sure to specify that they are for the Winter 2010 volunteer crew. Please include your email address in the check memo to receive your tax receipt via email.

21 Crescent St.
Providence, RI 02907

Your donations are 100% tax deductible and you will receive an acknowledgement of your gift for your tax records. Additionally, your name will be listed on our homepage! Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions. For more information, please visit our group page at:

Longitude Winter Trip 2010

Thank you all for taking the time to read this and for all your love and support in all the endeavors I decide to take on.

Lots of love,

Be the change you want to see in the world.-Ghandi

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thursday of Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
This year marks my first Thanksgiving, and major holiday for that matter, away from my loving and familiar comfort blanket of family and friends.

My Thanksgiving has been the same for as long as I can remember. Church in the morning, Macy`s Thanksgiving Day parade, followed by assisting my mom with dinner while she drills me every year with, `Now Kate, do you think you could make this meal if I wasn`t here?` The answer is always no, no Mom, no I could not. At which point I receive an exhaled, `Kaaaateeee`. Let`s be real, if Thanksgiving was on me I would most likely pick something up from The Honey Baked Ham store. Then, guests arrive for dinner, Carol, Beth, the Namimoto`s and the Salinas`, all or any combination of the above, and we have a lovely meal! Saying grace, which is mandatory when eating in the dining room, followed by a table poll of what we`re thankful for. Thanksgiving conversations are always fun. Inevitably including a discussion of where we are all going to be in 5 years lead by my mom, and then somehow on to marriage and relationships in general. Tori and I steer that discussion when we say very clearly that we are NOT getting married anytime soon, followed by our mothers` head nod of approved relief.

Makin mashed potatoes...clearly focused

Fam Bam

For our little crew of Thanksgiving guests, no one is really related to each other, aside from the immediate family members they showed up with. So we don`t have any of the ordinary Thanksgiving family drama. It is just a group of people, a man made family if you will, enjoying an amazing meal that we all pulled together to create. Everyone appreciates everyone else and we are all thankful to have each other to share in this pleasant holiday.

So this year, while I am over here in Japan thinking about how everything is going on as usual over in California, I am working on creating my own memorable Thanksgiving.

Last night the other 4 JETs that live in Kamagaya, as well as my apartment complex, had our own Thanksgiving! Dinner consisted of a chicken that was cooked in a crock pot, mashed potatoes, frozen peas and carrots, English muffins and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It was amazing! We even said grace beforehand and combined any and all of our Thanksgiving traditions. Kim and I are the only 2 Americans in our self named, JET Village, so for some of the other ALTs this was their first Thanksgiving as well. It was so nice to just hangout and chat. Tim, Sinapi`s husband, was also there. He is from Chicago and is in the US Navy, stationed at the base here. The pumpkin pie was courtesy of him and his access to mini America. He had brought over the ads for the Black Friday sales the base was having. And yes, he was set to wake up at 5am to get some shopping done. How very American of him.

Thanksgiving Japan style 2010

Sinapi (from NZ) and I


From my Turkey Day lesson at school...any questions?

This Saturday I went to another part of Chiba to have yet another Thanksgiving dinner, this time with about 40 other Chiba JETs. It was an amazing event and such a good time!

Trey and Mike carving 2 or the 4 turkeys, courtesy of Costco

Nicola and I with our HEAPING plates of food

Arts and crafts time led to some excellent decorations


While of course I wish I could share this special day the way I usually do with the people I love, I am still enjoying it all the way over here. Last night after Thanksgiving in JET Village, I went back to my apartment happy and satisfied. With not an ounce of homesickness, no offense anyone, and I started to wonder why. How did I get here? Here, to this place in my life where I am content celebrating a major holiday with people I met 3 months ago.

I was thinking about this last night as I was falling asleep, listening to rain and praying it would stop before my AM bike ride to work. And this is what I came up with. The reason I decided I am not homesick and longing to be back in the States today, is, well…you.

I have such a solid foundation of people supporting me and routing for me to succeed. If you are reading this you obviously know me in some way and thus have shaped my life in one way or another, some more than others. It could be as small as a conversation we had once, to helping me through a rough time, to attending high school or college with me, or as big as, well, raising me.

I want to sincerely thank you all for that. You have contributed to me. Shaping me as I grow, making me who I am. And I have to say, I`m pretty proud of the way I turned out.:) So thanks!

Thanks to my parents whose love and support has never faltered. Cheering for me at my 575,478,957 soccer games, backing me up when I didn`t understand my homework, putting up with my KUMON temper tantrums knowing that it would benefit me in the long run, and of course supporting me financially to my first choice university. Your support behind me being in Japan has been unbelievable. The fact that you understand why I want to be here and back me in my decision to move half way around the world, no matter how hard it is for you, is simply amazing. Love you both so much!

Thank you to my extended family, who I see all to rarely. Thank you for the memories and the support both, financial and otherwise, when I decide to take on such tasks as run a half marathon while raising money for Leukemia or go to Belize to teach. Thank you, thank you! You made those experiences possible for me, experiences that I count as some of the most important in my life.

Thank you to my family friends. A category that I feel like gets skipped over all too often. I am so lucky to have such an amazing group of adults looking out for me. Thank you to Carol, Beth, the Namimoto`s, the Salinas`, the Dawidziak`s, the Kirk`s and the Storer`s thank you all so much for supporting me as if I was your own. From including me on the email chain when you email your other 3 children, to taking me on trip with you, to treating me to countless meals. And always, always, always cheering for my success. Thank you.

Thank you to my friends. I don`t even know where to begin with this one. I love my friends more than I can say and I have been so lucky to have such a solid group. Thank you to my high school friends, a group of people who are seemingly able to pick up right where we left off 5 years ago at 18. (Oh my god is that right?! 5 years?!) That is the mark of true friendship. Thank you for the visits all over the world, thanks to the travel buddies, the nights we needed a place to crash, the visits to each other`s colleges, while they may not always be 100% memorable ;) those memories are irreplaceable. Love you guys!

I have always loved the quote, `Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.` I believe it wholeheartedly, especially when it comes to my college friends. Thank you all for helping me to create a new home in San Francisco. Thank you to my roommates over the years, which includes about 12 different girls with whom together we created some of the best days of our lives. Thank you, thank you, thank you girls for making my college experience what it was.

Finally, thank you to all those I have met in Japan. The reasons I love it so much, the reasons I want to stay. The friends I made at orientation, who I have known all of 3 months but it feels like so much longer. Thanks to the other ALTs in JET Village for supporting me through my move here and not slamming the door in my face when I ask for the 47,839 time, What does this say?, What did he say?, What bill this is?, How do I do such and such? Thank you guys, I am thankful everyday we have each other to lean on if we need.

Thanks to Jessica and Kellyne. The only other friends from home I have in this time zone. Knowing you are just a skype call away and on the same sleep schedule as me is unbelievably comforting.

And thank you to the amazing teachers I work with. I have said it before, but Taka, Namiko and Keima have really made my experience here. To the teachers who cause me to laugh all day long, thank you for making work so fun. Thank you for your patience with me as I learn Japanese, thanks for making sure I know if the schedule is changed, and when to pay my lunch bill, thanks for generally looking out for me. You have made this move to Japan a smoother transition than I ever thought it could be.

Being so far away this year has allowed to be even more thankful, and feel closer to my loved ones than ever before. I am so thankful to have you all in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone and Thank you!
Arigato Gozaimashita!

Gobble, Gobble

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fall Festivals

Culture Festival and Teacher’s Trip

With fall comes cooler weather and many school festivals. Most recently we had our culture festival, which consisted of each club and grade coming up with a something to sell as a way to raise money. Some clubs sold food or drinks, others sold things they had made. Needless to say I shelled out way more money than I wanted as I was cornered every few seconds and begged to buy either something plastic or something edible. Our culture festival was followed by another enkai, and we all know how much I like those! 

Our Principal in the background looks at this
super cool street performer!
The performer was like that for hours.
This time it was an over night enkai, the idea being that we eat dinner and have a drinking party and sleep where we eat. That way, no one has to take the train or drive afterwards. The drinking and driving laws here are much stricter than in the US. There is absolutely zero tolerance. If you have one drink, you do not drive. No exceptions. That being said, these drinking/sleeping places have come about to fill this niche.

Asakusa in Tokyo
So our little weekend trip consisted of quite the agenda! We meet at the local train station on a Sunday around noon. There was a chartered bus waiting for us, and we drove to a neat little part of Tokyo that I had yet to visit, so I for one was quite excited! Upon arriving we had amazing sushi for lunch, and my ability to use chopsticks was again discussed. My fondness of wasabi was also added to the list of discussion topics that swirl around me. Then we had a few hours to walk around and explore. Saw some temples and amazinggggg shops. Then it was back to the bus and off to see Blue Man Group. I was SO excited! I had wanted to see the show in Vegas, but we didn’t get tickets in time, so I was really excited to see it here! And being that there is such a language barrier, it was the perfect show to me to watch with them.
We got fortunes!
My was the best one possible, hers was the worst.
If you receive one that is not good you tie it to designated area, so as to leave the bad luck behind.

Namiko, one of my fave JTEs and I,
at the temple.

Temple in Asakusa
VP on the far left, next to him is
the teacher who was selected to
During the show I scoped it out, and it was official, I was the only non-Japanese person, which surprised be being that we were right in Tokyo. When the blue men made their way into the audience I saw them do a double take when they got to be. Namiko was next to me, and we both wondered if they were going to play off that fact, but they didn’t. Though they did select one of our teachers to join them on stage, she was perfect for the role. We called her Blue Woman for the rest of the evening. Oh! And we even got take a picture with them at the end!
A Blue Man!

Then it was off to the enkai place where dinner was UNBELIEVEABLE and we continued to drink and laugh into night. I’ve said it before but I really, really love the teachers I work with. It is so fun to have them in this setting where they can just be themselves, and we can enjoy each others company without the stress and traditional rules of the work place. 

The following morning, Monday, we headed back to little Kamagaya and enjoyed a day off. We had off that Monday to compensate for working on the previous Saturday at the culture festival.

Chorus Festival
Each class in the school, for a total of 13, have been practicing songs to sing at this years chorus festival. They are competing against each other for one of four trophies, best class per grade and best overall. I have been hearing them practice after school as they have been staying late and coming early to squeeze in extra practice. All the students were very excited about it, so I was eager to hear what they had prepared!

Last Friday we all gathered into the FREEZING cold gym. Evidently Japan does not believe in insulation, so the temp inside mirrors the outside temperatures year round. All the students were seated in their class rows and each class went up to sing two songs. Parents were gathered in the background and teachers were seated along the sides to keep order.

The first class went up and began singing. It was the song I had been hearing throughout the halls. Oh, so this is the class I’ve been hearing, I thought! I bopped along, watching the piano player and conductor, each class had appointed someone for the jobs. The first class then switched to their second song, which was lovely, and finally were off the stage. Time for the next class, which opened with the same song the first class had started with, the one I had been hearing throughout the halls. No. Way. I thought. No way is each class going to sing this same song. That means we would hear it a total of 13 times. You’ve got to be kidding me.

I starred at my program more intensely, looking for patterns with the Kanji and deduced that that was exactly what was going to happened. And indeed it was. I heard that song a total of 15 times that day, as they sang it together as a school twice at the end. Wow. I get the logic behind it, having some type of base line for the judges to judge them off of, but WOW.

Students wait for their turn, parents look on and
we all listen to the same song 15 times.
Just like on sports day in the beginning of the year, there were tears from just about everyone when the winners were announced. Boys, girls, parents and teachers. I was too perplexed to cry. It seemed the kids who won cried harder then those that lost. It was a few minutes before the groups went up to get their trophies and in that time I was trying to gage what type of tears I was looking at.

All in all everyone had a great day! And it was a nice change of pace. The kids loved it, and sounded amazing I must say!!

Guide Dog Assembly

This was in no way a festival but I had to add it in, it was just too cute. Yesterday we had a unique assembly where a blind man and his guide dog, Romeo, came to GoChuu to talk to the kids basically about what his day to day life is like. We watched a short video and he demonstrated how he communicates with Romeo, the yellow lab.

I know how crazy this is going to sound, but when the dog walked in, I felt an odd bond toward him, as we were the only two in about a 10 miles radius, with hair that could be classified as dirty blonde. And as I would soon find out, we both understood English! All Romeos commands were in English as the Japanese words for sit, down and come are about twice as long. A few times I had to chuckle when the man told Romeo to sit, and he just looked at him, or at one point went completely down. I have no idea if anyone else picked up on it, but it made me smile.

The students also got a chance to put on a blind fold and walk, guided by another student in an L shape, just to get a taste of what it is like to be blind. I served as guide for a few students, talking to them mostly in English with a little Japanese, and being that I recently added left and right to my Japanese vocabulary, I was eager to let them know that it was time to turn hidari.

Things are still going great! I am loving it here, and cannot believe how fast these three and a half months have gone by. It’s unbelievable! I get really sad when I think about my time here being over, leading me to believe that I will most likely be here at least 2 years. We don’t re-contract until the spring, so I have until then to make my final decision.

This past weekend, I went to Tokyo to meet up with some other JETs who were town just for the weekend and captured this lovely photo while at a random zoo. I also have to add that this zoo had squirrels and guinea pigs in captivity, what rare creatures! Just wanted to share. 

I love fall.
Up Next:

A trip to India for Christmas! I am officially going! I will be building houses in a small town for a about a week and traveling for a few days after. I have my flight and my visa such a relief.  I am getting excited!! More details to come!


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