Last Monday, September 16th, ARI celebrated its 40th anniversary with a ceremony and symposium.
The anniversary theme is “Transformation at the Grassroots: 40 Years of Walking with Rural Leaders,” and serves as a guideline to reflect on the experiences of the graduates who underwent ARI leadership training as well as ARI’s mission to promote rural community development for marginalized people across the world.
The morning ceremony was attended by around 280 people, including regular ARI community members and ca. 60 graduates from overseas and Japan. About 140 supporters and guests visited from the outside, despite the stormy weather caused by typhoon Man-yi.
Rev. Kenichi Otsu, director of ARI, extended his gratitude to the many domestic and overseas supporters who have kept ARI running for decades. Among the special speakers was also Mr. Jerome Sardar who graduated in 1973, the first year of ARI.
Honorary guest Mr. Tomikazu Fukuda, Governor of Tochigi Prefecture, described ARI as “pride of Tochigi” in his congratulatory message. Another honored guest, Mr. Toshio Itabashi, Board Chairman of the Rotary Yoneyama Memorial Scholarship Fund addressed the governor’s presence, saying “I believe this is a sign of recognition that the work of Asian Rural Institute, and its modest but fundamental contribution to world peace, is someting that Tochigi Prefecture can be proud of before the world.”
The special events continued in the afternoon with a graduates-centered symposium. Mr. Thomas Mathew, Indian graduate of 1988, and Ms. Judith Dhaka, Zambian graduate of 2001, delivered keynote speeches under the title “The Transformation We Have Brought About.” They talked about the culture shock they received when they arrived in Japan, and how the experience of rural leadership training at ARI shaped their personalities. ARI’s concept of servant leadership, living with people of different religions and practicing sustainable agriculture on a daily basis had a deep impact for their their work in Asia and Africa.
“Food is key to any development” says Ms. Dhaka. “I taught my community to preserve all the fresh vegetables that we eat, especially during the rainy season, and process some tuber crops like pumpkins and sweet potatoes.” About the leadership training she says: “I learned how to humble myself as a leader, to be a practical leader, especially by doing dish-washing and compulsory morning chores, when even the director (of ARI) can clean the toilet.”
Mr. Mathew was touched by the visit to the Hiroshima Peace Museum during his training and has since worked towards abolishing nuclear weapons. “My visit to Hiroshima at the time of the Western Japan Study Tour totally changed my thoughts about peace. The story of the hibakusha (victimes of the nuclear bomb) was painful for all of us gathered in Hiroshima YMCA.” After returning back to India, he invited hibakusha to speaking tours besides also promoting organic agriculture.
Other graduates joined a panel discussion afterwards where they described their successes and challenges as well as giving suggestions to improve the ARI training program.
The anniversary program is attended by more than 50 overseas graduates, many from India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. It is unprecedented for ARI to have such a large number of graduates on campus, together with community members from 20 different countries.
The symposium continued on Tuesday with discussions about women’s issues, environment, religion, community-centered transformation and so on. In the evenings and during breaks, graduates share freely about their work. Some of them reuinte with their classmates for their first time since their training, refreshing friendships that cross continents and cultures.