Japan’s Senior Volunteers

Japan’s Senior Volunteers


Mr. Suzuki Hisashi
Deputy Director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Division, Secretariat of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers

Suzuki Hisashi, Deputy Director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Division joined JAPAN and the WORLD in this special interview to discuss the program and its future.

JICA Volunteer program includes Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) for ages 20-39, Senior Volunteer (40-69), Nikkei Youth Volunteer (20-39) and Nikkei Senior Volunteer (40-69).

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been implementing volunteer programs in which people of different backgrounds and ages leave Japan to venture to other developing countries and help in different tasks based on the specific country’s specific needs.

In 1990, JICA introduced a volunteer program designated for older people and in 1996 changed its name to *Senior Volunteers (SV). This renowned program, which was recently recognized during PALM7 as an efficient way to continue building relationships between Japan and other countries, sends people ages 40-69 abroad to volunteer using their professional expertise. With an increasing aging population, the Senior Volunteer program also tackles an important issue in Japan: how can highly educated and active individuals continue to contribute to society?

—What are the reasons behind the creation of the Senior Volunteer program?

Many countries have human resource demands they cannot meet. Recipient countries want more senior volunteers with expertise, and thus we decided to create the senior volunteer program to respond to this demand. JICA receives requests from developing countries in the world. The countries request volunteers based on different qualifications such as technical and language skills. For JICA’s recruitment and selection, volunteers who meet the criteria are then able to apply for the prospective country they would like to volunteer in. This allows volunteers the freedom to apply locations that meet their own interests.

—Latin America is one of the most popular destinations for Senior Volunteers, what does JICA do to prepare the volunteers for their time abroad?

Many of these countries suffer from misleading news coverage that over exaggerate the failures in security and overshadow the real situation. We believe security is the most important thing for volunteers, so we have security measures for each country. Before sending them abroad, volunteers go through a month-long training where they learn about their prospective country, the common lifestyle, culture, security, health, and language. This helps to reduce misconceptions and anxiety over leaving home, as well as prepare volunteers to understand the society they will be living in. Once they return, many volunteers keep in touch with those they met throughout their journey. The feedback volunteers bring back to Japan is very positive, with many volunteers feeling the experience was very precious and life-changing.

Senior volunteer Takashi Hasegawa is teaching about automobile maintenance. / Credits: Koji Sato/JICA.
Senior volunteer Takashi Hasegawa is teaching about automobile maintenance. / Credits: Koji Sato/JICA.

—What are the most significant projects that the Senior Volunteers have done in Latin America?

One of the major volunteer projects is on quality control, such as 5S (sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain), a major system for Japanese quality control used in factories, hospitals and other areas. 5S is traditionally used in Japan to promote more efficient work. This quality measure was implemented by Toyota, and was one of the reasons the company was able to expand its business and become very successful. Teaching the implementation of this type of quality control has been a great influential factor, and one of the most important projects our program has done. We have overseas offices in most Latin American countries that coordinate and analyze the volunteering needs of each nation. They then send those requests to Japan, which allows JICA to post the recruitment information so volunteers can apply to the program of their choice. Our larger offices are in Dominican Republic, Paraguay, El Salvador, Peru and Bolivia because of the high necessity of assistance. Since countries such as Mexico, Argentina and Colombia have healthier economies, JICA’s assistance has been decreasing.

—What is the future of this program?

There are some difficulties we are facing right now: promotion of the volunteer program is one of the issues. We have tried to get feedback from the volunteers’ experiences in schools and universities, because the volunteer’s direct voice can serve as a persuasion mechanism. Other factors we have to consider are the country’s population and language promotion. After taking the proper examination, JOCVs go through a 70-day training and SVs have a 35-day training and 35 days of e-learning where volunteers learn the language of the country they will be visiting. However, some senior volunteers are required to proficient in the language of the specific country they will be in at the point of their application.

The senior population is increasing. This year is the 50th anniversary of JICA Volunteer Program since the first JOCVs were dispatched. Now we are in the process of formulating the vision of the volunteer program, predicting the decades in the future.

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